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News Wrap: Storm Pounds Midwest, New England

December 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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In other news, a major winter storm that rocked the midwest earlier this week has moved east to New England, and General David Petraeus warned the surge in Afghanistan may be tougher than the surge in Iraq.
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: Now, for the other news of the day, here’s Hari Sreenivasan in our newsroom — Hari.

HARI SREENIVASAN: A huge storm blasted nearly two-thirds of the United States today with ice, snow and heavy rain. It shut down airports and hundreds of schools and was blamed for at least 12 deaths. Kwame Holman has our report.

KWAME HOLMAN: A winter wonderland, it was not. As the pre-winter storm stretched eastward today, snow fell at the rate of an inch an hour in parts of New England.

MAN: It was definitely a lot worse than I expected.

KWAME HOLMAN: And that was just the latest. The season’s first system unloaded three feet of snow in parts of Northern California earlier this week. By Tuesday, much of the Midwest was blinded with whiteout blizzard conditions. Across state after state, roads were iced over, leaving drivers skidding out of control.

B.K. SMITH, Kansas Highway Patrol: It’s treacherous conditions, causing a lot of slide-offs and a lot of accidents.

KWAME HOLMAN: Overnight, plow trucks tried to clear more than a foot of snow in places like Madison, Wisconsin, where at least one got stuck itself. And a second round of snow slammed the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes today.

LEOLA WIDMAYER: So, I just do a little at a time, because I’m getting too old to do fast.

KWAME HOLMAN: Snow driven by 50-mile-an-hour winds piled up drifts in much of the Midwest and brought airports to a standstill, with hundreds of flights canceled.

CODY LAW: I’m actually heading back to Los Angeles, but this blizzard, it just won’t stop going, and, right now, all the flights are canceled, and can’t get home.

KWAME HOLMAN: Farther south today, the storm took the form of heavy rain that flooded streets in Virginia. And high winds blew over mobile homes in South Carolina. And, in the Northeast, snow began falling last night and continued into the morning. Commuters in New Jersey were among many thousands who faced a treacherous trip.

TRAVELER: I probably did about 30 miles an hour the entire way, because I have automatic four-wheel drive. So, it wasn’t as bad for me. But there was other cars in front of me that kept spinning out and doing…

KWAME HOLMAN: The storm was expected to cross Maine tonight and begin making its way into the Atlantic by tomorrow.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. general who executed the troop surge in Iraq warned today, Afghanistan will be tougher in some ways. General David Petraeus now leads the U.S. Central Command. He told a Senate hearing he expects to see progress, albeit slowly, as 30,000 additional U.S. troops deploy.

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, commander, U.S. Central Command: Afghanistan is no more hopeless than Iraq was when I took command there in February 2007. Indeed, the level of violence and number of violent civilian deaths in Iraq were vastly higher than we have seen in Afghanistan. But achieving progress in Afghanistan will be hard, and the progress there likely will be slower in developing than was the progress achieved in Iraq.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Petraeus wouldn’t estimate how many years it might take Afghan security forces to assume control.

In Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appealed to his countrymen to be patient after the latest bombings. At least 127 Iraqis died yesterday in a string of suicide attacks on government sites in Baghdad. More than 500 others were wounded. Maliki gave a nationwide address on Iraqi state television. He said all security strategies would come under review.

NOURI AL-MALIKI, prime minister, Iraq (through translator): I call on the Iraqi people for more patience and steadfastness and to proceed with the path of unity, confrontation and challenge. The insurgents try to spread chaos and spread hatred and sectarianism and to confront what Iraqis have achieved in terms of security gains as a result of their struggle, efforts and patience.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Later, state TV reported, Maliki had ordered a shakeup of top security officials. And a special parliamentary session was scheduled for tomorrow to focus on the security lapses.

In economic news, Bank of America announced it has repaid all of the $45 billion in federal rescue money it received. That frees the bank from government restrictions, including curbs on executive pay.

And, on Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 51 points, to close at 10337. The Nasdaq rose more than 10 points, to close above 2183.

Massachusetts is one step closer to filling the seat of Senator Edward Kennedy, who died last August. Attorney General Martha Coakley won the Democratic nomination Tuesday, over three other candidates. And Republican State Senator Scott Brown won his party’s nomination. They will face off in a special election on January 19.

And, in Georgia, former state Senator Kasim Reed was officially declared the next mayor of Atlanta. Election officials confirmed it after a recount. Reed beat City Councilwoman Mary Norwood by 714 votes in a runoff. She would have been the city’s first white mayor since 1973.

Those are some of the day’s main stories. I will be back at the end of the broadcast with a look at what you will find tonight on our Web site, but, for now, back to Jim.