Storm strands Chicago commuters for 5 hours

CHICAGO (AP) — Thunderstorms and heavy winds pounded the upper Midwest on Tuesday night, stranding Chicago commuter train riders for hours, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights, and delaying Vice President Joe Biden’s return to Washington after a fundraiser.

The National Weather Service issued several tornado watches and warnings in the region, forcing staff at O’Hare International Airport to herd frightened passengers into a lower-level baggage claim area. High winds also damaged two hangars at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, injuring at least three people.

Ashley Luthern of Youngstown, Ohio, who was trying to make a connection to Pittsburgh after a flight from Istanbul, was among the hundreds of passengers ushered to safety at the American Airlines terminal at O’Hare.

“At first they said get away from the windows, which is very hard to do in an airport,” she said. “They then became forceful in telling us to go down to the baggage claim area.”

Karen Ramsey of Williamsburg, Iowa, was trapped at O’Hare after flying in from Cancun, Mexico on United Airlines when her connection to Moline was canceled.

“It was beautiful down there. Come home to this,” Ramsey said.

Biden had been attending a Democratic fundraiser and raising money for an epilepsy foundation in Chicago when the storm struck, delaying his arrival at O’Hare and subsequent return to Washington.

More than 300 flights were canceled at O’Hare, with incoming and outgoing flights delayed by at least two hours, the Chicago Aviation Department said. More than 30 flights were canceled at Midway International Airport.

No twister sightings were reported in the area.

Michael Gillis, spokesman for Chicago’s commuter rail network Metra, said one outbound train was stuck for about five hours when a storm knocked a power line onto the rail. After 2 a.m. Wednesday, the train headed back downtown and passengers were asked to find alternative transportation or face an even longer wait for another train.

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