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Published April 11, 2013, 12:05 PM

Tough commute for Twin Cities motorists

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Heavy snow, sleet and gusty winds tested the patience of morning commuters across the southern half of Minnesota on Thursday as residents in the southwest corner of the state dealt with the after-effects of an ice storm that knocked out power to thousands.

By: Associated Press, Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Heavy snow, sleet and gusty winds tested the patience of morning commuters across the southern half of Minnesota on Thursday as residents in the southwest corner of the state dealt with the after-effects of an ice storm that knocked out power to thousands.

Driving times from the suburbs into downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul were easily double the normal pace or longer. The state Department of Public Safety advised no unnecessarily travel because of difficult or hazardous driving conditions.

The State Patrol said it responded to 187 crashes plus 289 vehicles that either spun out or went off the road from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. While 18 of those accidents involved injuries, the patrol said, nobody was seriously hurt or killed.

Light rail service was interrupted during the morning rush along the entire Hiawatha Line from Target Field in downtown Minneapolis to the airport and the Mall of America in Bloomington. The storm caused ice to accumulate on the overhead power lines faster than it could be scraped off, causing several trains to stall. Metro Transit brought in buses to transport riders instead. By 10 a.m. trains were running again along the entire line.

More than 100 flights were canceled and there were numerous delays at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Thursday morning.

Snowfall totals reached as high as 12 inches at Marshall in southwestern Minnesota, while parts of the Twin Cities area received 3 to 6 inches, the National Weather Service said.

Even before the snow started falling, winds gusting as high as 50 mph raked the Twin Ports, causing scattered outages that knocked out electricity to more than 2,100 Minnesota Power customers, the Duluth News Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/150lTmR ).

Scores of schools and school districts to cancel classes for the day, including some colleges.

In southwestern Minnesota, freezing rain and high winds from an ice storm Tuesday changed the cityscape in Worthington, City Administrator Craig Clark said Thursday. It was "raining branches" in the city of 12,700 people because of all the ice, he said, and about 6 inches of snow accumulated on top of the ice. But Clark said he had not heard of any injuries.

Worthington's backup diesel generation plant kept houses warm and sump pumps going when up to a third of the city lost power. He said the city's industries, including the JBS meatpacking plant, and local schools remained closed because of the power situation.

More than two dozen juveniles from the Pinnacle Programs residential treatment center in Magnolia that lost power spent the night at the National Guard armory in Luverne. Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Kor said the 28 young people may need to stay there a couple days. Seven center staffers were also at the armory, where the teens were doing schoolwork, watching movies and playing games.

Just north of Luverne, Tuesday's ice storm also took down numerous trees and branches at Blue Mounds State Park, leading the Department of Natural Resources to close the campground through April 21.

"With more rain, wind and snow predicted, I can only assume that branches will continue to fall," Park Manager Craig Beckman said.

No campers were in the park during the storm and nobody was injured. The park is home to a herd of about 75 bison, which Beckman said was faring well through the storm. He said their powerful heads act as snowplows to help them reach the prairie grass under the snow.

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