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Holiday Storm turns into a headache for some

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MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Residents across the central United States who made it home for Christmas were digging out on Friday after a fierce snowstorm while those who spent the night in airports and shelters tried to resume their journeys. Meteorologists warned that roads across the region remained dangerous.

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Slippery roads have been blamed for at least 21 deaths this week as the storm lumbered across the country from the Southwest. Ice storm warnings and winter weather advisories were issued for parts of the East Coast on Friday, but the region was largely spared.

The National Weather Service said blizzards would hit parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin through Saturday. The storm had already dumped significant snow across the region, including a record 14 inches (35 centimeters) in Oklahoma City and 11 inches (28 centimeters) in Minnesota on Thursday.

Interstate highways also were closed in North Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming. Meteorologists warned that massive snow drifts and blustery winds could cause whiteouts across the northern Plains. Officials urged travelers to stay home and pack emergency kits if they had to set out.

In Texas, volunteer firefighters and sheriff's deputies rescued hundreds of people stranded along Interstate 44 and Texas State Highway 287 near Wichita Falls. The area recorded up to 13 inches (33 centimeters) of snow, said Doug Speheger, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Even residents in the Dallas-Fort Worth area briefly experienced a white Christmas, their first in more than 80 years. Not since Dec. 25, 1926 -- when 6 inches (15 centimeters) fell on Dallas and Collin counties -- had the area had a true postcard-looking Christmas.

But by late afternoon, the 3 inches (7 centimeters) of snow measured at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport on Christmas Eve was all but melted.

Winds were gusting from 45 mph (72 kph) to 60 mph (96 kph) across the Dakotas and Nebraska on Friday. Crews were working to restore power to thousands of customers in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Illinois and Iowa.

The storm also grounded flights at South Dakota's biggest airports. Sioux Falls Regional Airport was closed until Saturday morning at the earliest, manager Dan Letellier told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. Flights also were canceled at Rapid City Regional Airport and Pierre Regional Airport. The total number of flights affected wasn't immediately available.

About 200 people were stuck overnight at Oklahoma's largest airport, which closed Thursday afternoon after several inches of snow clogged runways, said Mark Kranenburg, director of the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. The airport reopened Friday morning, but only one runway was operational.

Most of the stranded passengers were gone by Friday afternoon. While some were able to catch flights, many simply went home. Kranenburg predicted it would be two or three days before all three runways were open and flights resumed as scheduled.

The 14 inches (35 centimeters) of snow in Oklahoma City broke a record of 2.5 inches set back in 1914.

The previous record for Christmas Eve in Duluth, which has gotten more than 22 inches (55 centimeters) in two days, was 3 inches (7 centimeters) in 1893, said Kevin Kraujalis, a National Weather Service meteorologist. By the time the storm is over, it could be one of the 10 worst in Duluth's recorded history.

With heavy winds producing snow drifts as deep as 5 feet, "it's awful, it's just awful," Kraujalis said. "It's a big workout just walking outside to check my weather equipment."

Since Tuesday, icy roads have been blamed for accidents that killed at least seven people in Nebraska, five people in Oklahoma, four in Kansas, two in Minnesota and one each in North Dakota, Missouri and New Mexico.

___

Associated Press writers Patrick Condon in Minneapolis, Eric Olson in Omaha, Nebraska, Melanie Welte in Des Moines, Iowa, John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, Linda Stewart Ball in Dallas and Sophia Tareen in Chicago contributed to this report.

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