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News Wrap: First major snowstorm of 2014 shuts down Midwest cities

January 2, 2014 at 12:00 AM EST
In our news wrap Thursday, the first major winter storm of 2014 shut down cities in the Midwest as it barreled towards the Northeast. Heavy snow is expected across New England. Also, Sunni militants linked to al-Qaida battled for control of two Iraqi cities, storming government buildings and police stations.
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JUDY WOODRUFF:  The Northeastern United States braced for a wallop of winter on this second day of 2014, as the Midwest dug out and faced frigid temperatures.

Kwame Holman has our weather look.

KWAME HOLMAN:  The first major snowstorm of the new year began shutting down cities across the Midwest today.  Arctic winds brought thick snow, as much as 12 inches in some places, with more to come in New England.

Residents there started preparing yesterday for the storm, although the worst isn’t expected to hit until later tonight.  More than 22 states and about 100 million Americans are in the storm’s path.

MAYOR THOMAS MENINO, Boston:  We have been here before.

KWAME HOLMAN:  At a news conference today, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said residents should take precautions.

THOMAS MENINO:  I’m urging everyone to stay indoors, check on your elderly neighbors.  If you see homeless individuals, call the police or emergency services.

KWAME HOLMAN:  Schools and state offices across Boston were set to be closed tomorrow.

And New York City awaited the storm with snowplows on hand, the first storm under new Mayor Bill de Blasio.  Residents in the Midwest already have been hit by the winter weather.  Streets blanketed with snow in Cleveland created tough driving conditions with low visibility.  And in the Windy City, residents who deal with blizzard conditions regularly still found the foot of snow hard to deal with.

MAN:  You got to improvise.

MAN:  It’s horrible.  This — this — I guess it’s Chicago weather.

KWAME HOLMAN:  Along with the snow, frigid temperatures struck several parts of the country.  Earlier today, temperatures fell well below zero, reaching minus-20 in parts of North Dakota and minus-30 in Northern Minnesota.

The cold extended east to Maine and Vermont, where snowfall is expected to top a foot, even more in Massachusetts.  Holiday travelers heading home were grounded after more than 2,000 flights were canceled.  Officials also are concerned about power outages from heavy snow and winds, and flooding along the eastern coast of Massachusetts, where the waves already are growing.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Heavy snow is expected to continue through tonight and into tomorrow across New England.

Tensions flared in Iraq today, as Sunni militants linked to al-Qaida battled for control of two key cities.  The insurgents have ties to Syria, more evidence the civil war there is crossing borders.  Today’s clashes centered around Fallujah and Ramadi.

Thousands of anti-government fighters stormed government buildings and police stations and freed prisoners from jail.  Elsewhere, a truck bomb north of Baghdad killed at least 19 people and wounded dozens more.

A blast also went off today in Beirut, Lebanon, killing at least five people.  The bomb targeted a Shiite Hezbollah stronghold in the southern suburbs of the capital.  The force of the explosion tore the front off of nearby buildings and littered the street with the smoldering wreckage of burned cars.  The health minister reported more than 66 people were wounded.

Secretary of State John Kerry said finding peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not mission impossible.  He arrived in Israel today to press leaders from both sides to make tough choices and acknowledged there are challenges to overcome in the quest for a two-state solution.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State:  The time is soon arriving where leaders are going to have to make difficult decisions.  We are close to that time, if not at it, and I think we understand the circumstances within which we are working.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  But, today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the actions of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.  He said it was an outrage that Abbas glorified recently released Palestinian prisoners by calling them heroes.

Doctors in Israel reported former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is clinging to life after suffering from a critical malfunction of various organs.  Sharon had a stroke while still in office in 2006 and has been in a coma ever since.  He’s never regained full consciousness, but his family says that he occasionally blinks his eyes and moves his fingers.

Fifty-two passengers aboard a Russian research ship stranded in the Antarctic ice were finally rescued today.  They had been stuck since Christmas Eve.

We have a report narrated by Sangeeta Kandola of Independent Television News.

MAN:  The first of the helicopters to take us home!

MAN:  Thanks, everyone!

 SANGEETA KANDOLA:  After nine days of waiting, this morning, relief and excitement at the prospect of finally going home.

CHRIS TURNEY, Expedition Leader:  It’s 5:30 on 2nd of January and we have just heard that a helicopter from the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long is heading over to check out our helipad just behind me.  If all goes well, we will be off in about an hour’s time.

SANGEETA KANDOLA:  The mission is almost complete; 52 passengers have been transported from the Russian ship the Academic Shokalskiy, which has been trapped by thick ice sheets since Christmas Eve.

The crew have remained with the vessel while the team of scientists are now safely on the Australian icebreaker the Aurora.  The task to free them from the frozen ice has been plagued by a number of problems.  Three icebreakers were initially dispatched to try to crack their way through the thick ice surrounding the ship, but all failed.  The rescued group’s view has remained the same for days, until now.

The Australian vessel they have boarded will take them on a scenic route to Tasmania, arriving around mid-January, before they head home.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  An undocumented Mexican immigrant can now be licensed to practice law in California.  The state Supreme Court made that unanimous ruling today in favor of Sergio Garcia.  His case was seen as a test of the new California law that authorizes the court to let qualified applicants into the state bar regardless of their immigration status.

Changes to the GED exam rolled out today, in the first overhaul to the high school equivalency test in more than a decade.  The revamped test now focuses more on the skills needed for college and the workplace, and it will only be offered on the computer.  More than 700,000 people took the GED in 2012.

The new year of trading on Wall Street got off to a sour start, with technology stocks slumping the most.  The Dow Jones industrial average lost 135 points to close at 16,441.  The Nasdaq fell 33 points to close at 4,143.  Oil also plummeted by nearly $3 a barrel in New York trading, as Libya prepared to reopen a major oil field.