As many as 100,000 travelers have been stopped dead in their tracks at O'Hare International Airport in the worst snow snarl since the January 1967 storm that shut down the facility for three days and inspired Arthur Hailey's best-selling novel, "Airport."
The snow started late Saturday. By Sunday, the operation of O'Hare had begun to fall apart, as 16 inches of snow drifted across runways faster than plows could clear it.
Though this storm was not as heavy as the one a decade ago, it affected twice as many people because the airport, designed to serve 35 million people a year, now deals with 50 million.
The scene in the coffee-stained, paper-strewn corridors of this vast terminal today was one of thousands of stranded passengers, some of whom had been waiting two and three days for a plane.
The night before, the walls and staircases had been lined by dozing businessmen in three-piece suits and curled-up college students in ski jackets and jeans.
Hungry babies strapped to their mothers' backs cried for their bottles. In the bassage room below, dogs in plastic cages barked for their food.
In one of the 22 slow-moving lines in front of the ticket windows of American Airlines, an elderly man in a wheelchair fainted.
At Gate K-6, about 100 people waited for American's Flight 148 to Washington. Many of them were there the previous day. At 4:45 p.m., there was an announcement: "Flight 148 is canceled. Those who are not en route to their destinations or awaiting connections will have to fend for themselves."
One of the dejected would-be passengers, on her way back to the long ticket lines for another reservation Wednesday, passed a gate where a crowd poured out of a plane -- one of the few that managed to lnd -- from sunny Phoenix.
"Why in the hell would anyone come from Phoenix to this miserable city?" she said to no one in particular.
In two days, Sunday and Monday, United Airlines, the biggest carrier at O'Hare, had to cancel 313 of its 480 flights.
Some of the stranded were fortunate enough to find motel rooms around the airport, though they often had to hire limousines, at anywhere from $22 to $35 a ride, to get to their destinations.
By mid-afternoon today the siege of O'Hare began to be lifted.
But for some of those left behind, life was further complicated by their separation from their luggage, which could not be recovered after flights were canceled at the last minute.
But one airline announcer took an optimistic view of that predicament: "Don't worry about your baggage. It won't get hungry or need changing."