5 dead as winter storm slams parts of US Midwest


WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - A winter storm has pummelled parts of the Midwest, turning roads into a snowy and slushy mess that has contributed to the deaths of at least five people, authorities said.

The storm is expected to head towards the Mid-Atlantic States, with several inches of snow forecast for Washington, DC, and much of Virginia. In Missouri, up to 17 inches (43cm) of snow had fallen in the central part of the state, the National Weather Service said.

Winter storm warnings extended across a widespread portion of the United States: from central Kansas, across areas of the Midwest and into southwestern Ohio, the Weather Service said. The warnings also stretched from the central and southern Appalachians to eastern Virginia. As the storm moved east, some in Washington sought to stock their shelves in preparation for its arrival.

As of Saturday (Jan 12) afternoon, the Missouri State Highway Patrol reported more than 800 vehicle crashes and four fatalities. It also responded to almost 1,800 stranded drivers. Officials warned drivers to stay off the road, citing heavy snowfall and freezing rain in some places.

Early Saturday, officials warned that eastbound traffic near St Louis was experiencing delays of six to eight hours.

Mr Adam Dylewski, a St Louis resident, said he spent more than three hours on the road last Friday night after trying to get from one urgent care centre to another for his job as a physician assistant. He said there were countless cars spinning their wheels, fruitlessly trying to get up modest hills, and he saw several drivers abandon their cars in search of help.

“It looked like I was in some sort of apocalyptic natural disaster movie where people were trying to flee,” Mr Dylewski said.

Illinois State Police said that during a period of about 20 hours it responded to nearly 300 traffic crashes – of which one was fatal. In eastern Illinois, a tractor-trailer flipped and landed on its roof, a state trooper said in a Facebook video.

In some areas of the state, many of the vehicle crashes involved college students trying to get back to school, Illinois State Police said. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, students were traveling to campus for the start of a new semester. The University of Missouri shut down its campus last Friday out of concern for staff and student safety.

In St Louis, some people tried to keep things business as usual.

Mr Anthony Gitto, of a series of Italian restaurants in the St Louis area called Charlie Gitto’s, said one of the sites was hosting a wedding on Saturday afternoon despite the snow and hazardous road conditions. He said the snow piled on with little respite.

“I haven’t seen snow like this in a long time,” Mr Gitto said. “If you don’t have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, it’s probably best to stay home.”