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Ugly weather hits holiday travelers

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(CNN) — Holiday travelers were dealing with delays Wednesday at several airports around the country because of rain, wind and snow across much of the continental United States.

Flight delays and cancellations are expected to grow throughout the day at major airports including those in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and New York.

At Philadelphia International Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration reported delays of about an hour Wednesday morning due to wet, foggy conditions.

At Reagan National Airport in Washington, traveler Gregory Simpson had to wait an extra hour for his flight to Toronto.

“If you want to see family, you gotta do what you have to do,” he said, taking the weather delay in stride. “It’s unfortunate that this tends to happen this time of year, but there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.”

At least one holiday flier doesn’t have to worry about such annoyances. Santa’s aircraft, Candy Cane One, has been cleared by the FAA for gift deliveries.

Flooding is a threat in the Southeast after heavy rainfall and strong thunderstorms moved through the area. Rain is expected to turn into snow from Illinois to northern Michigan, and wind gusts of up to 60 mph could hit travelers in the Great Lakes. A storm in the West will bring more snow for the Rockies.

The Mountain States should see heavy snow, and rain and slush will spray patches of gray melancholy on the holiday scenery in the Northeast on Wednesday and Thursday.

The sun should return to a broad section of the southern and central U.S. on Thursday, and gentle snow will lay down a white Christmas on doorsteps from the California mountains through parts of the Midwest.

AAA projects that 98.6 million Americans will travel 50 or more miles this holiday season, a 4% increase from last year. Those traveling by car can take advantage of plummeting gas prices — which, averaging $2.25 nationwide, are down 69 cents a gallon from a year ago.

Storms kill four in Mississippi

On Wednesday, a tornado watch lingered in parts of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. Farther west, people grieved and cleared rubble in southern Mississippi, where a tornado system killed four people Tuesday night and packed an emergency room with dozens of injured.

Tuesday’s storm tore to pieces a mobile home in the countryside of Jones County, Mississippi, killing two people, Sheriff Alex Hodge said.

“There were other brick and mortar homes that had major damage, but we have no other injuries reported,” he said. The storm also wrecked a church.

A few dozen miles to the southwest, two more people died in storms in Marion County, police said. The hospital overflowed with injured people.

“Fifty patients were seen in the ER today because of the storm,” said Marion General Hospital spokeswoman Millie Swan. “We are operating on generator power. Columbia is completely out of power.”

At least 6,300 households lost power and roads were cut off. Emergency operators have heard of people injured and trapped. Swan expects more injured patients to come into the hospital in coming days, once they can make it in.

State of emergency

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant issued a state of emergency for Marion and Jones counties on Tuesday.

On a highway in between the two counties, the storm damaged a children’s day care center, but spared the children inside.

Unharmed, they were moved to a nearby bank building.

In nearby Louisiana, not far from the town of Amite, authorities said a windstorm damaged 15 homes.

Civil defense sirens howl from the distance on a video posted to YouTube on Tuesday purportedly of a tornado in Mississippi that day. “See it spinning?” a woman asks another.

Something on the grainy image seems to be circling in a mass of dark gray clouds on the nearby horizon.

Tornadoes are not unusual this time of year in the Deep South, said CNN meteorologist Karen Maginnis. “Actually, this is a secondary peak for tornado activity. The first is during the spring months.”