WASHINGTON — A major storm moved through the Northeast on Wednesday morning after turning the Midwest into an ice-bejeweled wilderness where more than 100 million people tried to cope with the dislocation caused by record snowfalls and winds.
The Federal Aviation Administration reported only scattered delays across the nation, but that was testament to the airlines’ foresight. More than 11,000 flights were canceled in recent days as more than 30 states prepared for what the government called a storm of life-threatening proportions.
Despite preparations, thousands of travelers remained stranded in airports around the country.
More than 300,000 households and businesses were without power from Texas to Ohio and into parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Major interstate highway systems were closed down, stranding some for hours. Rail lines were impassable due to the mix of snow, thick ice and swirling winds that in some places reached hurricane force.
“Residents have dubbed the storm the ‘Blizzard of Oz,’ ” Danny Rotert, an aide to Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., said Wednesday morning. “Midwest humor at its best.”
Rotert said: “We have 10 inches to 12 inches on the ground in Kansas City (Mo.) with drifts 3 feet tall in my front yard.”
There were reports of drifts even larger as the storm moved north and east through Illinois and Wisconsin. According to the National Weather Service, Chicago received 17 inches and more was falling. Missouri tallied 18 inches, and more than a foot was recorded on northern Indiana, southeast Kansas and Oklahoma.
Chicago, on track for its worst snowfall in 40 years, shut down its iconic Lake Shore Drive for the first time in years, and hundreds of motorists were stranded for 12 hours after numerous vehicle accidents. Public schools were closed for the first time in 12 years.
New York City was covered in ice, but a mix of sleet and freezing rain meant slush and flooding later in the day. New York has already been hit by severe storms this winter that raised the usual political hackles over how to deal with them.
On Tuesday, the Obama administration said it had moved emergency supplies into position. According to officials, the Federal Emergency Management Agency supplies included 57,000 liters of water, 56,000 meals, 2,400 blankets, 1,200 cots and one 54-pack of power generators that were sent to Tulsa, Okla.; Oklahoma City; and McAlester, Okla. Supplies also have been sent to Missouri, Kentucky and Ohio, officials said.
“The real heroes are these local responders going out in the storms and still rescuing people,” FEMA head Craig Fugate said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
According to the National Weather Service, the storm touched more than 30 states and a third of the U.S. population, from New Mexico to Maine. But most people had time to prepare.
Ann Lewis said that she went to a hardware store in Dixon, Ill., on Tuesday and stocked up with four 50-pound bags of salt, “the type that still melts snow when it is in the single digits, which is the prediction for tonight when the snow stops.
“I also went to the grocery store to stock up on food. The store was exceptionally crowded for a Tuesday afternoon,” she said.