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Denver airport's troubles not over

Extended closing disrupts US travel

DENVER -- Thousands of travelers who got stranded at Denver's airport trying to beat the Christmas rush experienced a second frustrating day yesterday, forging through a snowbound city to hotels or opting to bed down again in the terminal.

The nation's fifth-busiest airport, which shut to all flights Wednesday, wasn't expected to reopen until noon today, creating a ripple effect that disrupted air travel around the country just as the holiday crush began to build.

"We can't go home; the highway's closed. We can't get to the car; it's 10 miles away. And the hotels are not cheap," said Jodie Hartfield of Colorado Springs, who spent a sleepless night squeezed between a signboard and a phone booth with her husband and three young children.

The closure of Denver International -- once touted as an "all-weather airport" -- prompted cancellation of 2,000 flights through today, airline officials said.

Nearly 5,000 travelers had been stranded at the airport. But by yesterday afternoon, buses and shuttles were making regular pickups, and a steady flow of people headed to the parking lots. By nightfall, about 1,500 remained, spokesman Steve Snyder said.

On Wednesday night, airport authorities provided a few hundred cots for the estimated 4,700 stranded travelers and doled out scratchy Red Cross blankets, along with diapers and baby formula. But there wasn't nearly enough bedding to go around.

Hundreds of travelers slept in lines at ticket counters. Others huddled on bench seats or sought shelter against walls and counters, covering themselves with clothing, luggage, and newspapers.

Denver International was touted during its construction in the early 1990s as impervious to bad weather because of its runway spacing and alignment and electronic gear that could guide planes in for a landing using only instruments.

The "all-weather" tag was challenged at the time, and yesterday Snyder called it "a wonderful phrase we wish had never been invented."

Some mountain areas got more than 3 feet of snow, and up to 25 inches fell in the Denver area.

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