Denver Blizzard Leaves Air Traffic Mess - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Denver, Colorado - 12/22/06

Denver Blizzard Leaves Air Traffic Mess

Ice and snow cover an airplane Thursday at Denver International Airport. Ice and snow cover an airplane Thursday at Denver International Airport.
Snow builds up on vehicles Thursday at Denver International Airport. Snow builds up on vehicles Thursday at Denver International Airport.
Michael Brendle, left, and his sons dig out their car from a snowbank on Interstate 25. Michael Brendle, left, and his sons dig out their car from a snowbank on Interstate 25.

Holiday travelers donned their winter coats and built cardboard shelters on the concourse floor to stay warm as they waited for Denver International Airport's runways to reopen Friday after a two-day blizzard shutdown.

Even before dawn, hundreds of people were in line at the ticket counters, hoping to rebook a flight out by Christmas. Most of those stranded when the storm hit on Wednesday were left on standby with little hope of finding room on another plane.

Outside, an army of snow plows worked to clear the runways so the airport could resume at least limited operations around noon.

"I just want to get home to see my family," said Atlanta businessman Scott Carr, standing in the Frontier Airlines line that wrapped around to the opposite side of the terminal.

He booked four flights on three different airlines to increase his chances of making it home for Christmas and was considering driving to Kansas City to catch a flight.

"If I have to drive, at least I'll be getting closer," he said.

United Airlines spokesman Jeff Kovick said it could be days before some people are able to get on a flight. The 2,000-plus canceled flights at Denver, the nation's fifth-busiest airport, caused a ripple effect that disrupted air travel around the country just as the holiday crush began.

"We're asking for their patience as we work to get people where they need to be as soon as we safely can," Kovick said.

Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas said the airline has 65,000 bumped passengers to move systemwide and the airline was 90 percent booked for the holidays. "Do the math," he said.

An estimated 4,700 travelers spent Wednesday night at the airport. By Thursday evening, about two-thirds of them had found hotel rooms, but others still slept on cots in the airport, in chairs or on the floor.

Workers in orange vests directed the human traffic and offered blankets and what other supplies they could to the stranded travelers.

Near one cardboard shelter that had been cobbled together from boxes the workers had used, Jackson, Wyoming, teacher Joanna Snyder and others searched in vain for information on flights.

"It's all rumor," she said.

Michele Bermudez hadn't planned to be in Denver for more than a few minutes. She was supposed to change planes there on Wednesday en route from Tennessee to California but ended up at the terminal after spending eight hours in an airplane on the runway.

"I finally had to buy a T-shirt and some sweat pants," she said, showing off the souvenir shirt reading "Denver."

The storm, Colorado's worst since a March 2003 blizzard, brought life to a standstill for 3.8 million people along the Front Range -- a 170-mile urban corridor along the eastern edge of the Rockies that includes Denver.

Some mountain areas got more than 3 feet of snow, and up to 25 inches fell in the Denver metropolitan area. Bus and train service was shut down. Police and National Guard soldiers rescued hundreds of people stuck in cars.

In Wyoming, a woman died while walking for help after her car became stuck in the snow, officials said. In Kansas, a woman was hit by a tractor-trailer on an icy road.

Denver's normally bustling downtown began showing signs of life as the sun came out Thursday afternoon. Mail delivery across the region was still suspended, however, and many malls were closed on what should have been one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Aviation analyst Michael Boyd criticized the airport's handling of the snowstorm.

"With six runways, not even one can be open within a few hours? There's something wrong at DIA," he said. "Minneapolis doesn't have that problem, Salt Lake doesn't have that problem."

Airport spokesman Steve Snyder said plows were running during the storm, but the snow came fast and winds whipped drifts up to 5 feet high under the wings of grounded planes.

Plow managers expected to have two runways cleared by noon Friday. Other areas that needed to be cleared included deicing areas, taxi areas and stretches of tarmac. Ticket crews, Transportation Security Agency workers and other logistics still had to arranged before the airport could open.

"You can't just turn an airport on with a switch," Snyder said.

Story courtesy of http://www.cnn.com.

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