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Dozens trapped in vehicles for hours as blizzard blankets US

world Updated: Dec 14, 2010 01:58 IST

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A blinding blizzard trapped dozens of motorists for hours in the bitter cold Monday as a massive winter storm system barreled across the northern United States.

Travel was snarled and schools were closed across the midwest as officials struggled to dig out from the storm which dumped up to two feet (66 centimeters) of snow and whipped up powerful winds and massive drifts.

Minnesota was among the hardest hit by the days-long storm, and the heavy snow even caused the roof of its famed Metrodome football stadium to collapse.

Nobody was hurt when the roof sank like a souffle, tore open and dumped a blanket of snow onto the green field Sunday morning. But the Minnesota Vikings were forced to reschedule Sunday's game against the New York Giants to Monday evening in Detroit.

Meanwhile, strong winds and thick, wet snow continued to cause white out conditions and coat highways with a sheen of ice and slush.

Roads were littered with abandoned cars and trucks that had careened into the ditch or gotten stuck in heavy drifts.

Conditions were particularly bad in northern Indiana where the relatively warm waters of Lake Michigan whipped up even more snow on Monday.

Even some of the plows were getting stuck, and those which could get through were often blocked by abandoned cars which had been covered in snow drifts, said Deputy Patrick Drangmeister of the LaPorte Indiana sheriff's department.

"We've got a backlog of getting people off the roads - I've got about 50 pending calls right now," Drangmeister told AFP around midday Monday.

"There are still people still stuck from overnight."

Gale force winds also forced the closure of part of Chicago's Lakeshore Drive after whipping up waves as high as 28 feet (8.5 meters) which coated the shorefront and poured onto the nearby roadway.

Winter weather advisories were issued from the Great Lakes to the Appalachian mountains and as far south as the Carolinas as the storm moved eastward.

A deep low pressure system following in the storm's wake funneled Arctic air all the way to Virginia and the national weather service warned of dangerously cold temperatures.

"It's been terrible all weekend," said Pat Slattery, a spokesman for the National Weather Service.

"The wind really compounds the temperatures and makes it really dangerous."

Wind gusts of up to 60 miles an hour have also formed massive snow drifts that are "packed hard as a rock" and cause extremely dangerous driving conditions, he told AFP.

"In one particular instance a guy was driving his car stayed on top of the snow, drove over a drift which was over a guard rail on a bridge and he ended up going over it."

While the driver survived, Slattery said these kinds of drifts can be extremely deceptive to drivers because people don't know they've driven off the road until the snow gives way.