Storm strands Chicago commuters for hours
Travelers sleep in Terminal 2 at O'Hare International Airport, Tuesday, June 21, 2011, in Chicago. Heavy rains across northern Illinois caused the cancellation of hundreds of flights from Chicago's two major airports. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)
CHICAGO - Thunderstorms and heavy winds pounded the upper Midwest Tuesday night, stranding Chicago commuter train riders for hours, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights, and delaying Vice-President Joe Biden's return to Washington after a fundraiser.
The National Weather Service issued several tornado watches and warnings in the region, forcing staff at O'Hare International Airport to herd frightened passengers into a lower-level baggage claim area. High winds also damaged two hangars at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, injuring at least three people.
Ashley Luthern of Youngstown, Ohio, who was trying to make a connection to Pittsburgh after a flight from Istanbul, was among the hundreds of passengers ushered to safety at the American Airlines terminal at O'Hare.
"At first they said get away from the windows, which is very hard to do in an airport," she said. "They then became forceful in telling us to go down to the baggage claim area."
Karen Ramsey of Williamsburg, Iowa, was trapped at O'Hare after flying in from Cancun, Mexico on United Airlines when her connection to Moline was cancelled.
"It was beautiful down there. Come home to this," Ramsey said.
Biden had been attending a Democratic fundraiser and raising money for an epilepsy foundation in Chicago when the storm struck, delaying his arrival at O'Hare and subsequent return to Washington.
More than 300 flights were cancelled at O'Hare, with incoming and outgoing flights delayed by at least two hours, the Chicago Aviation Department said. More than 30 flights were cancelled at Midway International Airport.
No twister sightings were reported in the area.
In Michigan, WZZM-TV and The Grand Rapids Press reported Wednesday that high winds pulled two hangars off their foundations at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. WOOD-TV said members of the Civil Air Patrol were preparing for natural disaster training when the storm hit Tuesday night. They took cover in one of the hangars as powerful gusts ripped a door off and blasted some of the service members off their feet. Three suffered minor injuries.
Michael Gillis, spokesman for Chicago's commuter rail network Metra, said one outbound train was stuck for about five hours when a storm knocked a power line onto the rail. After 2 a.m. Wednesday, the train headed back downtown and passengers were asked to find alternative transportation or face an even longer wait for another train.
Two inbound trains remained stranded before dawn Wednesday, and the storm caused numerous other delays and cancellations to the service, Gillis said.
"Since the wind stopped, we've been dealing with various track obstructions," Gillis said.
Some 267,000 customers remained without power in Illinois, particularly in the north where the storm hit hard, Bennie Currie, a spokesman for the utility Commonwealth Edison, said early Wednesday. About 5,600 customers in Chicago still have no electricity, he said.
The storm also delayed play for 1 hour, 44 minutes in the second game between Chicago rivals the Cubs and White Sox. The game at U.S. Cellular Field was temporarily halted in the top of the sixth with one out and the Cubs having runners on the corners.
On Monday, a massive storm forced fans attending a College World Series game in Omaha, Neb. to evacuate the stadium. Sirens blared and fans were ushered to an underground shelter as black clouds shrouded the city.
The game between Florida and Vanderbilt was suspended until Tuesday, with the Gators winning 3-1.
--The Associated Press