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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 December 2006, 12:45 GMT
Winter storm strikes central US
A Missouri State Highway Patrol sits in a snow bank on Friday 1 December
Heavy snow has left many roads in the mid-west impassable
Driving snow and high winds left half a million people without power and brought traffic to a halt as a winter storm hit the central United States.

Heavy snow fell in Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri, causing the cancellation of hundreds of flights in the region.

Schools and offices were closed and drivers warned to stay off snow-clogged roads.

A state of emergency was declared in Missouri and the National Guard activated to help with relief efforts.

A disaster emergency was also declared in 27 counties in Kansas.

Transport havoc

Birds sit in a snow drift with Chicago in the background

The winter storm - the first major one this year - has been felt across much of the mid-west, causing havoc for travellers, both on the roads and in the air.

By late Friday United Airlines had cancelled 941 flights, company spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said.

At least five traffic deaths were blamed on the storm, the Associated Press news agency reported. Heavy snow also caused the roof of an Illinois nursing home to collapse, injuring four people.

Two men died after shovelling snow in Wisconsin, where more than 14 inches (37cm) fell in some places. Weather forecasters warned people to be careful shovelling the heavy, wet snow, describing it as "heart attack snow".

Some 520,000 people were without power in Illinois and Missouri after snow and ice snapped power lines, provider Ameren Utility Corporation said.

Vice-President Ron Zdellar said reconnection could take time.

"We know a lot of people are going to have to leave their homes, probably over the next few days," he said.

Shelters were set up in St Louis for people forced out of their homes by the cold.




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