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Slippery roads caused by the system were blamed for 14 deaths.

Snowstorm socks Plains, Midwest, curbing travel, Christmas Eve services

MINNEAPOLIS - A blustery storm spread snow and ice across the heartland yesterday, grounding flights and stranding drivers on white-knuckle highways as people tried to get home for the holidays. Some churches canceled Christmas Eve services.

"I don't think God wants anyone to get killed or break a hip or break a knee or something," said the Rev. Joseph Mirowski of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration in Mason City, Iowa, where up to a foot of snow and sleet was expected.

Up to two feet of snow was forecast in parts of the Plains and the Midwest by Christmas Day.

Blizzard warnings were issued for Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin, and drivers were encouraged to pack emergency kits before setting out during what is normally one of the busiest travel periods.

The storm was also expected to glaze highways in the East with ice on Christmas.

Slippery roads were blamed for 14 deaths this week as the slow-moving storm went across the country from the Southwest.

The snowstorm also put the brakes on last-minute Christmas shopping. At the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., some shoppers had entire stores to themselves.

"It doesn't bother me any," said Steve Burns, browsing for shirts and other gifts with his teenage daughter.

High winds blowing snow across icy roads were a concern elsewhere. Interstates were closed in Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry activated military personnel to help drivers. North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven placed state troopers and the National Guard on standby.

The wind gusted to 40 m.p.h. in central Kansas and gusts up to 60 m.p.h. were forecast in Oklahoma. Winds gusting at up to 65 m.p.h. in Texas created snow drifts as deep as 5 feet.

"The wind is a killer, especially when you're empty," trucker Jim Reed said in Omaha, Neb. "Anything that's boxed, like a refrigerator trailer like I have, becomes like a giant sail in the wind."

The storm closed Oklahoma's biggest airport. Mark Kraneneberg, a spokesman for Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, said there were about 100 stranded passengers. Some airport employees were stuck as well.

Robert Smith of Denver was in Oklahoma City visiting family members and friends and planned to fly home yesterday, but he had to cancel.

"We are going to wait it out," he said.

Nearly 100 flights from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport were canceled by midday. By late afternoon, though, a spokesman said most flights were getting out.

The Oklahoma City airport shut down one of its three runways and canceled nearly 30 flights. Two-hour-plus delays were reported at Houston's Hobby Airport. Chicago's O'Hare had hour-long delays and more than 30 cancellations.

The Rev. Mark Kelm told parishioners to stay home if they didn't feel safe, though he planned to hold services even if he was the only one there at St. John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church in White Bear Lake, a suburb of St. Paul, Minn.

"The best way I can explain it is, it's just like a pregnant woman - if the baby is coming, the baby is coming. For us, the Christ child is going to be celebrated," Kelm said.