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Hundreds Of Travelers Stranded Due To Winter Storms

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O'Hare Travelers

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Updated: 12/27/10 9:40 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Getting home from the holidays is on hold for hundreds of thousands of travelers. The massive blizzard that buried the East Coast has left people stranded at airports all over the country, including here in Chicago.

At airports on the East Coast and across the country, the flight board says “cancelled” and the holiday travelers were, in many cases, stranded.

Many are stuck at O’Hare and Midway airports.

On Monday, there were more than 200 cancellations at O’Hare, and 25 at Midway.

“I tried calling the 800 number yesterday, and I was put on hold for an hour and a half, two hours,” said Ben Tipton.

But he is one of the lucky ones with a confirmed seat to New York on Thursday.

“I might be getting on a standby today, but I’m number 32 on the list, so fingers crossed,” said Tipton.

With a long-anticipated Manhattan medical appointment early Wednesday, the McGhees are now spending $300 to $500 for a rental car to drive back home.

“I have a doctor’s appointment to deal with my crutch. We’ve got the rental car, it’s expensive,” said Julie McGhee.

It was a lost weekend for the Lepre family.

“We came in on Saturday to watch the Jets-Bears game, which we lost,” said Vinny Lepre.

Scoring a seat back to New Jersey won’t happen for Vinny and his daughter, Kaitlyn Lepre, and thousands of other travelers for another four days.

“Friday is out of the question,” said Vinny. “We need to get back before then. We’d like to stay employed. The clock is ticking.”

“Here we are in Chicago, no money left,” said Kaitlyn.

“We’re working the phones. Our next call is going to be to Amtrak,” said Vinny.

With all trains to the East Coast booked, the Lepres are still weighing their options.

“I’m not really that frustrated ‘cause it really hasn’t set in yet,” said Vinny.

“I’ll be panicking in a few hours, calling my boss. That’s not gonna be fun,” said Kaitlyn.

More than 1,700 overseas travelers were stranded after eight international flights were diverted to O’Hare.

The Chicago Department of Aviation worked closely with the Federal Aviation Administration to find gates for all the aircraft making unexpected layovers, and worked with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to help get passengers through customs, according to a release from department spokeswoman Karen Pride.

At Chicago’s bus terminal, the Holmbergs returning home from Buffalo, are proof of how the storm has snowballed from city to city.

“All the flights were cancelled for at least three days,” said Maureen Holmberg.

“We went to the rental car place where they all had giant signs that said sold out,” said Oliver Holmberg.

The only choice for this mom and son: an 11-hour bus ride to Chicago.

Oliver says if he didn’t have a sense of humor, “I would be clawing my eyes out.”

Consider the plight of Elizabeth Maher. The Phoenix native has to be in New York by Thursday afternoon to get married. Her fiancé has to depart.

Airlines have said “they can get me to Pennsylvania by 2 o’clock” that day, she told CBS 2’s Mike Parker at O’Hare.

The scene at area hotels is almost more chaotic than the airports.

With two toddlers in tow, the Harris family never anticipated their Chicago connection to Virginia would take off.

“We don’t have the money to do this, and we just got sent up here and now we’re trying to do the best we can,” said Josh Harris.

They are ponying up for a four-day hotel stay now because the airline insisted they try to make it.

“It’s a major inconvenience. We knew that this was going to happen,” said Harris. “We talked to the airline. The airline said that we need to fly out there. And now we’re stuck here.”

Back at the airport, most stranded travelers are taking their inconvenience in stride.

“It kind of surprises me that it’s not like a zoo here,” said Tipton. “I expected the worst.”

A blizzard warning was in effect for the Eastern Massachusetts through noon Eastern time Monday. Snow totals in Boston are expected at 15 to 20 inches, CBSBoston.com reported.

A blizzard warning is also in effect for the New York City area, and wind gusts are expected to top 60 mph, CBSNewYork.com reported.

On Sunday, more than 1,400 flights were canceled on the East Coast, and more than 200 at Chicago airports.

One couple tried to make it home to Stamford, Connecticut.

“They told us we couldn’t get out by plane till at least Thursday,” said Stacy Pryce. “So that’s why we’re driving.”

Pryce’s husband says they are ready for the drive into the blizzard, with two hands on the wheel the whole time.

And that’s probably advisable considering what Stephen Sehr says he experienced while caught in the storm in a plane in Boston.

“We were sitting on the aircraft and the aircraft was just shaking from the wind itself, and it was the worst 20 minutes flight that I’ve ever had, getting up out of the storm,” said Sehr.

And he’s one of the lucky ones. His plane was allowed to take off. Some 2,000 flights were not; 175 flights out of O’Hare were grounded.

Maureen McCormick was supposed to be on one of them, going through New York, on her way to London.

“It got snowy, so they rebooked us. Now we get to go direct from Chicago to London. It’s a lot nicer to sleep in Rosemont than to sleep in JFK,” she said.

Hundreds of passengers were forced to sleep in airports.

Martha Merilos’ flight was canceled yesterday. She’s flying out today, but a couple of members of her party are still stuck in New York, trying to make their way to London to watch the Downers Grove North band march in the city’s New Year’s parade.

“They are hopefully going to get out at 9:30 tonight if everything opens up at JFK,” Merilos said.

Now the question is will bosses back east be as prepared and understanding when their workers stranded in Chicago fail to show up to their East Coast jobs. But it’s not for lack of trying.

“I tried online and I couldn’t get through. I tried on the phone. I was, like, for an hour on the phone,” one woman said. “So I said, OK, let me just take the train and come here and get it done.”

Laverne Stewart works at LaGuardia International Airport, so you’d hope her bosses will be in a forgiving state of mind.

She laughed and said while she would hoped her bosses would understand her situation, “nobody cares.”

In addition to the snow, wind is also causing large drifts, and much of the snow is blowing right back out of the runways at the East Coast airports.

CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli, Mike Parker , Vince Gerasole and Dana Kozlov and Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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