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The Globe and Mail

Storm that killed 12 in U.S. causing travel headaches in Ont., Que., N.B.

A man walks along a road near Montreal, Dec. 27, 2012 during the first major snowstorm of winter in the region.


For two days, a massive storm has been pummelling large swaths of the United States, spawning more than 30 twisters between Texas and Alabama, knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes in Arkansas, upending holiday flight plans at dozens of airports, and transforming myriad roads in Indiana, Ohio and Maryland into treacherous sheets of snow and ice.

As predicted, the U.S. weather mayhem hit Canada late Wednesday. Environment Canada had warned that a dangerous snowstorm would hit Southern Ontario and parts of Quebec and New Brunswick.

The winter blast, which arrived in Toronto Wednesday evening,  dumped as much as 10 centimetres of snow on the city, 15 cm on Ottawa, 15 to 30 cm in the Montreal area, and 25 cm or more on eastern New Brunswick.

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As many people returned to work after the holidays Thursday, they faced hazardous road conditions. The Canadian Automobile Association was fielding hundreds of calls in south central Ontario.

"It's the combination of snow and blowing snow that makes this particularly nasty," said Environment Canada's Arnold Ashton. "It's pretty nasty anywhere you go. Basically the whole [Highway 401] corridor" will be affected.

Hundreds of flights were cancelled or delayed out of U.S. airports and several departures had been cancelled by early Thursday at Pearson International Airport in Toronto and at Montreal's Trudeau Airport. Travellers were urged to call ahead to check on their flight status before heading to the airports

In the U.S, scores of motorists skidded on slick highways in numerous states, with some vehicles slamming into snowdrifts. Snow contributed to vehicle crashes as far east as Maryland. About two dozen counties in Indiana and Ohio issued snow emergency alerts, urging drivers to travel only if necessary. Some 40 vehicles got bogged down trying to make it up a slick hill in central Indiana, and four state snowplows slid off roads as snow fell at a rate of seven cm an hour in some places.

As the storm moved east, New England state highway departments were treating roads and getting ready to mobilize with forecasts predicting a foot of snow or more.

"The way I've been describing it is as a low-end blizzard, but that's sort of like saying a small Tyrannosaurus rex," said John Kwiatkowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis.

At least 12 people have died in the U.S. as result of the storm. Two passengers in a car on a sleet-slickened Arkansas highway were killed Wednesday in a head-on collision, while two people, including a 76-year-old Milwaukee woman, perished Tuesday on Oklahoma highways. In Texas and Louisiana, two people died after they were struck by wind-toppled trees.

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The day after Christmas is typically quiet for the American Automobile Association, with many people still on holiday and schools closed. But the association's Cincinnati-area branch had its busiest Wednesday of the year because of the storm. By mid-afternoon, nearly 400 members had been helped with tows, jump starts and other aid, with calls still coming in, spokesman Mike Mills said.

In Arkansas, some of the nearly 200,000 people who lost power could be without electricity for as long as a week after about 25 cm of snow coated power lines and strong winds snapped utility poles. Other states also had scattered outages, including Mississippi.

In that state, the powerful storm had already passed, leaving pockets of devastation in its wake. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant declared states of emergency in eight counties Tuesday with more than 25 people reported injured, 70 homes damaged, numerous power outages and flooding.

One of those homes belonged to Cindy Williams. The front of her house had collapsed into a pile of wood and brick. Her balcony and porch had been ripped apart. Her large oak trees had been uprooted. But as Ms. Williams stood by her destroyed home, the 56-year-old focused on what she had: Her family had escaped unharmed.

"We are so thankful," she said. "God took care of us."

- with a report from Associated Press and Canadian Press

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