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Major Storm Leaves Many Stranded

January 2, 1999

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) _ Mark Jensen rang in the New Year at the home of friends, and by Saturday he was still there _ snowbound except for accompanying them on a hike to a drug store for supplies.

``Between not having to work yesterday and the weather, I never made it home,″ said Jensen, even though he lives just three miles away in downtown Springfield.

He didn’t even think about trying to get his car out and taking a chance on the roads. ``I’ve got insurance to pay,″ he said.

Most people huddled at home as the snowstorm rolled across the Midwest.

A few braved the snow-choked roads and boarded what few trains were running to Chicago’s two airports _ and wound up sitting because airlines canceled hundreds of flights.

``I really want to go home,″ said Shirley Keene, who arrived at O’Hare International Airport to find that her flight to Washington was among the ones that had been called off. Like many others, she scrambled for a hotel room with the plan of returning to the airport Sunday.

It wasn’t much better for motorists.

Stephan LaFrance, a trucker from Chicago, left California late Wednesday. By 3 a.m. Saturday, the wind was howling and ``with the shadows, you didn’t know what you were seeing until you hit it.″

So he pulled off at the Dixie Trucker’s Home on Interstate 55 in McLean, about 135 miles southwest of Chicago. By afternoon, he was still there, sipping coffee and chewing the fat with about 100 other truckers.

``I knew once I got off the road, I wouldn’t get back on. But I’d rather be here than out there,″ said LaFrance, who’s been driving for 31 years. ``The only thing is, with the wind blowing, you could end up in somebody’s field.″

He complained about the lack of tow trucks to help him get out of the parking lot.

``Sissies,″ he sputtered. ``...If you want nice weather, go to Florida.″

Snow was falling on the parking lot at a rate of an inch an hour.

``We’ve cleared the snow away twice and you can’t tell,″ said Tami Loewen, Dixie’s field desk manager. ``We’re hanging tight. There are drivers standing all around and we’re making the best of it.″

The snow didn’t stop everyone.

``If you go slow, you can stay on the road,″ said Steve Little, who drove to an auto parts store in the Chicago suburb of Carol Stream to get an alternator and battery to fix his four-wheel-drive truck.

``I love it,″ said 12-year-old Billy England. ``Playing in it _ snowballs, sledding _ it’s fun.″

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