HARI SREENIVASAN: Good evening. A huge snow and ice storm spread across more of the Midwest today on one of the most heavily traveled days of the year.
The slow-moving system left some people hanging on this Christmas Eve. They faced a deluge of rain and sleet and forecasts of up to two feet of snow in some parts of the country by Christmas Day.
The National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings from Texas up to Minnesota. State police warned of dangerous conditions and urged drivers to carry water and flashlights.
MIKE JARRETT, Teays Valley fire department, West Virginia: If you’re on a road and you see red lights, treat it like a school zone. Put the cell phone down. Put your coffee down, both hands on the wheel. Focus.
HARI SREENIVASAN: In Kansas, winds gusted to nearly 40 miles an hour and visibility was nearly zero. One interstate was completely covered by ice. But it wasn’t just roads that were frozen. In Nebraska, icicles clung onto power lines and weighed down trees, which dropped branches in some unlikely places.
MAN: All of a sudden, I heard this big bang. And this is what happened.
HARI SREENIVASAN: There were also air delays all across the Midwest, but some people made the best of it.
BOY: I never spent the night in an airport, so I — I think I will enjoy it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Nearly 100 flights in Minneapolis were canceled and dozens of flights were delayed. Officials there were preparing for the worst.
MAN: We’re looking at total accumulations now through, let’s say, Friday evening 15- to 20-inch range there.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And, farther south, heavy rain overnight knocked out power at Houston’s Hobby Airport. Electronic ticket machines shut down, and travelers had to wait in long lines to check in manually. The storm, which tore through the Southwest earlier this week, is expected to lurch toward an already slushy East Coast by week’s end.
Pope Benedict XVI had a scare this evening as he celebrated Christmas Eve mass. A woman jumped security barriers in Saint Peter’s Basilica and knocked the pontiff down. The procession halted, and guards began running to the pope’s aid. But he was unhurt and continued with the celebration. Vatican officials said the woman was apparently mentally unstable.
In the Middle East, thousands of pilgrims gathered in Bethlehem under tight security, as singers, rock bands and dancers performed.
Bomb attacks across Iraq took the lives of at least 27 people, as a major Shiite religious observance nears its end. In Hillah, south of Baghdad, twin explosions killed 13 and wounded 74 others. Most were Shiite pilgrims on their way to the city of Karbala. Pilgrims and a funeral procession were also targets of multiple bombs in Baghdad neighborhoods.
The U.S. Senate voted today to raise the federal debt ceiling to $12.4 trillion. The House already approved the increase of $290 billion over the current limit. It lets the Treasury Department issue enough bonds to finance government operation until mid-February. The Senate vote was largely down party lines.
There was encouraging economic news on this last business day before Christmas. Jobless benefits fell more than expected last week, and orders for durable goods rose in November. It was enough to bring good cheer to Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 53 points, to close at 10520. The Nasdaq rose 16 points, to close at 2285. For the week, the Dow gained nearly 2 percent; the Nasdaq was up 3 percent.