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Snowstorm howls across the Midwest

Icy blasts and freezing rain added to the mix, making for treacherous travel and knocking out power to thousands.

MILWAUKEE - Highways were hazardous for holiday travelers yesterday and thousands of homes and businesses had no electricity in the Midwest as a storm blustered through the region with heavy snow and howling wind.

At least 11 deaths had been blamed on the storm.

Winter storm warnings were posted for parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan yesterday as the core of the storm headed north across the Great Lakes. Parts of Wisconsin already had a foot of snow, and up to a foot was forecast yesterday in northeastern Minnesota, the National Weather Service said.

Radar showed snow falling across much of Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota yesterday and moving into parts of Michigan and Indiana.

"Everything is just an ice rink out there," said Sgt. Steve Selby with the sheriff's department in Rock County, Wis.

The weather system also spread locally heavy rain from the Southeast to the lower Great Lakes.

The storm rolled through Colorado and Wyoming on Friday, then spread snow and ice on Saturday from the Texas Panhandle to Minnesota. Multi-car pileups closed parts of several major highways Saturday in the Plains states.

The area of Madison, Wis., got three to four hours of freezing rain early yesterday, said weather service meteorologist intern Bill Borghoff at Sullivan. The combination of icy pavement and gusty wind made driving treacherous, he said.

"It's quite a mess out there," Borghoff said.

Wind gusting to more than 50 m.p.h. uprooted trees in parts of Michigan. "I can see the snow moving basically sideways," meteorologist Wayne Hoepner said in Grand Rapids. Winds were recorded blowing as fast as 88 m.p.h. over Lake Michigan with gusts of 50 to 68 m.p.h. across the Chicago region, according to the National Weather Service.

Because of the wind, airlines canceled more than 250 flights yesterday at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, the city Aviation Department said. Municipal officials said the wind had knocked out nearly 170 traffic signals, and there were more than 500 reports of fallen trees and limbs.

More than 11,000 homes and businesses were without power at some point Saturday in Wisconsin because of the freezing rain, ice, gusty wind and heavy snow, utilities said. Michigan utilities reported that 74,500 customers were still without power last night, and in Illinois about 24,000 customers were blacked out.

At least three people in Minnesota, three in Wyoming, three in Wisconsin and one person each in Texas and Kansas were killed in traffic accidents that authorities said stemmed from the storm.

The fatality in Texas came in a chain-reaction pileup involving more than 50 vehicles, including several tractor-trailer rigs, on Interstate 40, police said. At least 16 people were taken to hospitals, Sgt. Michael Poston said.

"We're not really sure how many cars, probably in excess of 40 cars and in excess of 20 semitrailers," Amarillo Police Sgt. Greg Fisher said yesterday.

Many were holiday travelers, including families with small children not dressed for the weather, Sgt. Shawn McLeland said. Other drivers opened their own Christmas presents to provide warmer clothing for the children.

Authorities believe the pileup, which shut down the highway for most of the day, was caused by near zero visibility in blowing snow and slippery pavement. Multivehicle wrecks on Saturday also blocked sections of I-70 in Kansas and I-29 in Missouri.