Sea-Tac stranded passengers finally flying out

Tuesday, December 23rd 2008, 5:12 pm
By: News 9

SEATTLE (AP) -- Crowds of stranded travelers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport were drastically reduced, Amtrak restored passenger train service and motorists found easier going Tuesday -- but more snow was on the way.
   Many surface streets remained snowpacked, icy and rutted with treacherous gray slush across the normally balmy Pacific Northwest from weekend storms that brought 8 to 12 inches of snow to Seattle and nearby cities.
   The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch for much of Washington state, with another 1 to 3 inches of snow forecast in Seattle and as much as 6 inches in the suburbs by early Wednesday, to be followed by slightly warmer temperatures and rain later on Christmas Eve.
   Meanwhile, freezing rain was making driving hazardous Tuesday across parts of the nation's midsection, including Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas. The Chicago Department of Aviation said more than 250 flights were canceled at O'Hare International Airport because of the weather, and many others were delayed.
   Sea-Tac airport, the Pacific Northwest's largest, had been jammed without thousands of stranded travelers Sunday night and Monday morning. But most air service was restored Monday, and the number of people sleeping in the terminal early Tuesday was down to "a hundred, if that," said Perry Cooper, an airport spokesman.
   Alaska and Horizon airlines, which account for about half the 900 daily flights in the days before Christmas, were aiming for full service Tuesday.
   "The lines that we saw this morning were at the (security) checkpoints, which is good," Cooper said.
   He said he didn't think the new snow on the way would bring big disruptions, because the forecast accumulations "are well within the capacity of our snow removal crews and equipment."
   Most flights were getting out Tuesday at Portland (Ore.) International Airport as well, said Kama Simonds, spokeswoman for the Port of Portland. On Monday, more than 250 flights or more than a third of the typical total had been canceled, she said.
   Another bright spot, Simonds said: "People really seem to have a certain amount of holiday spirit left in them."
   Things were looking up for train travelers, too, as Amtrak said it was restoring local passenger train service Tuesday between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, British Columbia. Amtrak's long-haul trains, the east-west Empire Builder and north-south Coast Starlight, continued operating through the storms but with major delays.
   A segment of Interstate 84 east of Portland reopened Tuesday morning after snow removal crews worked through the night, the state transportation department said. It had been closed Saturday night.
   Greyhound service in Portland and Seattle had been shut down Monday. A sign on the door at the Greyhound bus station in Seattle said the company is evaluating road conditions and will decide later Tuesday when buses can roll again.
   On Monday, frustrated travelers had lined up at airport ticket counters and bus stations around the West.
   "I work for the Red Cross back home and we're trained to be prepared for when disasters strike," Colleen Stone, 51, said as she and her family waited at Los Angeles International Airport. "This is a disaster and the airlines are not prepared for it."
   She and her family had left their Illinois home Saturday hoping to fly to Seattle and spend Christmas with Stone's parents. Instead, they endured two canceled flights, a car ride and $600 worth of hotel and rental car expenses, and weren't even close to their destination.
   It was a similar story at the Salt Lake City bus station on Monday, where some travelers had already waited several days for a way out of town.
   "I made it this far, and I've been stuck here ever since," said Nathan Collver, 30, a carpenter who was on his way from Austin, Texas, to Portland.
   LAX reported scattered delays Tuesday morning, including several flights to Seattle that were delayed.