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Winter storm buries Midwest

A huge snowstorm blew across the Midwest on Saturday with whiteout conditions and drifts up to 8 feet high, canceling hundreds of airline flights, forcing motorists off roads and keeping mail deliverers from their appointed rounds.

"I knew it was going to be here one way or another," said snowplow driver Kerry Morris in Des Moines, Iowa.

By Saturday evening, the storm had dumped 17 inches at Chicago's Midway Airport, 12 inches in Milwaukee and 8 inches on Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus. Snow was 13 inches deep in western Indiana's Parke County, and 10 inches of new snow had fallen in southwestern Ohio and Eldora, Iowa.

Wind gusting to 40 mph created blizzard conditions. Icy roads contributed to more than a half-dozen deaths throughout the region.

"It's nasty. I wouldn't want to have to go out," Vickie Berkey said from her home near Angola, Ind. "There's a drift in front of the garage and it just keeps getting bigger."

More than 50 of Indiana's counties and cities declared snow emergencies, banning unnecessary travel; Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon declared a less-restrictive statewide snow emergency.

The Postal Service even quit delivering mail in the Indianapolis area. Rain, slush and freezing temperatures made it too dangerous for carriers to walk their routes, Postmaster Mike Lamborne said.

Many Chicagoans said the storm brought back memories of the "Blizzard of '79," which dumped about 19 inches of snow on the city.

Mayor Richard M. Daley said more than 700 pieces of snow-fighting equipment would be deployed.

Thousands of travelers found themselves without a ride as hundreds of flights through major Midwest airports were called off.

TWA canceled nearly 400 morning flights at St. Louis, its main hub. At Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, American canceled all flights through midnight Saturday and United shut down everything after midafternoon.

United spokesman Matt Triaca said anyone planning to fly out of O'Hare should wait until Monday _ or Tuesday.

That set up more delays and cancellations elsewhere across the country, including Denver and New York City's three major airports. Northwest Airlines shut down about 150 flights systemwide and Delta canceled dozens of flights to the Midwest.

Detroit's Metropolitan Airport planned to stay open through the storm, spokesman Mike Conway said. Crews shut down one of the three runways at a time to clear away snow, while thousands of travelers inside the terminal scrambled to rebook canceled flights.

At Tampa International Airport, Saturday's temperatures reached into the 80s, but snow and ice were on many travelers' minds. With at least a dozen departing flights canceled because of closed airports in the Midwest, travelers trying to get back to Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland found themselves renting cars and making arrangements to extend their Florida vacations.

"We're supposed to go out on Spirit today to Detroit," Renee Lawhead said as she tried to hang on to her squirming, tired children. "They've been playing games with us all day, they hadn't told us anything. Now, they're telling us we can't leave till Friday. Whoever would think that you don't get out on an airline for a whole week?"

Even people traveling to sunny Miami and overseas to London felt the effects of the storm, waiting for flights delayed because of the mayhem at other airports.

All trips out of the Greyhound Bus station in Milwaukee were canceled Saturday. One of the stranded travelers was 20-year-old Frank Ramos, who had ridden a bus from New York City and was trying to get to Appleton, Wis., 100 miles north of Milwaukee, to give his girlfriend an engagement ring and meet her parents.

"I'm trying to have a good attitude," Ramos said.

Blizzard conditions resulted in two car pileups on Wisconsin highways Saturday, killing one person. A 10-year-old Iowa boy was killed Friday when he sledded in front of a truck. Two people were killed in car accidents in Missouri on Friday. Nebraska and Arkansas each had two storm-related traffic deaths Friday. Illinois had four storm-related death.

Freezing rain along the southern edge of the storm pulled down power lines in Arkansas and some 58,000 customers were in the dark Saturday, down from more than 100,000 the night before. Utilities said more than 11,000 customers lost power during the morning in northern Illinois, with widespread outages in other parts of the state, and some 3,000 were blacked out in Indiana. About 36,500 customers were without power in North and South Carolina.

_ Times staff writers Angela Moore and Bill Coats contributed to this report.