Six-year-old Jaylee Oeschger, 6, laughs as she is hit in the head with a snowball thrown by her sister Ileana, 10, as they play in the snow with their dog Mavis on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/AnnArbor.com, Melanie Maxwell)
MILWAUKEE (AP) — A Midwest snowstorm packing heavy snow and strong winds left six people dead in Kansas, hundreds of vehicles crashed or stranded in Wisconsin, and tens of thousands of utility customers without power in Michigan.
“It’s the heaviest snow we’ve received all winter long, as far as the largest quantity and it’s wet,” said Mark Rupnik, a sheriff’s lieutenant in Sheboygan County, Wis., where residents were hit with 15 inches of wet snow over two days — Tuesday and Wednesday. “This is our big storm for the year, I hope.”
The storm hit a wide swath of the U.S. with wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph and wet snow. It started in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Missouri on Monday night and headed through Colorado, Iowa, northern Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan on Tuesday into Wednesday, according to Bob McMahon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wisconsin.
Kansas has been particularly pummeled with snow lately, receiving more than 2 feet of snow in some places over the last week or so. [auth] As of Wednesday morning, about 10,000 Kansas customers in mostly eastern counties were still without power, though company officials expected all service to be restored by the end of the day.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday said two people died in traffic crashes, two siblings died from carbon monoxide poisoning in Kansas City, Kan., a woman died in southwest Kansas while shoveling snow, and another Kansas City resident was killed while walking in the snow.
At a Macy’s in northeast Kansas, 3 to 4 feet of heavy snow on the store’s roof caused an evacuation Wednesday morning because of safety concerns.
More than 50,000 homes and businesses in Michigan lost electrical service at one point Wednesday after a storm knocked down power lines and tree branches. About 40,000 remained without power as of Wednesday afternoon, with Washtenaw County hardest hit.
The utilities said crews would work around the clock to restore power.
The National Weather Service said Muskegon, Mich., was reported to have 9 inches of snow as of Wednesday morning. Authorities said weather might be a factor in crashes that killed motorists in Sanilac and Monroe counties.
In Wisconsin, more than 440 stranded vehicles and crashes were reported in Milwaukee, Sheboygan, Kenosha, Ozaukee and Washington counties after heavy snowfall that started Tuesday and continued into Wednesday. No major injuries were reported.
Rupnik said the main highways in Sheboygan County were drivable as of Wednesday afternoon, but he expected the secondary roads to remain a problem into Thursday.
Many parents in southeastern Wisconsin didn’t have to take to the roads Wednesday, with several school districts canceling classes. That included the state’s largest school district of Milwaukee, which received about 9 inches of snow. A 71-year-old man collapsed and died Wednesday afternoon shortly after snow blowing in Milwaukee.
On the plains in the eastern half of Colorado, wind and snow created white-out conditions Tuesday afternoon just as buses began taking students home from the Miami-Yoder district school about 40 miles east of Colorado Springs. The buses turned back to the school and about 60 students ranging from preschoolers to 12th graders watched movies, played basketball, ate concession-stand pizza and talked to their parents before bedtime.
The older kids slept on wrestling and gym mats covered with coats, while the younger ones curled up on preschool napping mats, Principal Sharon Webb said.
The school is a large version of a one-room schoolhouse. The students all know each other, and many are related, which Webb said gave it the feel of a sleepover. She said parents were understanding.
“When you live out here in this wide-open country, you know they’re where it’s the safest,” she said of the school.
Back in the Midwest, about 100 flights in and out of Chicago’s airports were canceled for Wednesday, according to the air traffic tracking website FlightAware.com. Flights into O’Hare International Airport were being delayed an average of about an hour at one point Wednesday.
In Missouri, a Kansas City man’s neighbors may be part of the reason he’s alive after he suffered a heart attack while shoveling snow. The ambulance became stuck Tuesday while rushing to his home, said fire department spokesman James Garrett. While rescue workers ran the rest of the way to treat the man, as many as 20 people helped free the vehicle.
Elsewhere, authorities said no one was injured after a train collided with a car that was stuck in snow on railroad tracks in Woodward, Okla., where at least 15 inches of snow fell. The motorist tried to drive over the train tracks Wednesday morning but became trapped on the snow-covered road, Oklahoma City television station KWTV reported.
Authorities say the driver was able to exit the car safely but couldn’t push the vehicle from the tracks before the train smashed into it. The car was totaled in the collision.
Colleen Slevin contributed to this report from Denver.