SHERMAN, Conn. - A high-flying hello from strangers in Michigan made its way through storms and across several hundred miles, landing recently near a Connecticut woman's home.

Marcella Lourd, 80, who lives in the western Connecticut town of Sherman, found a cluster of about 17 bright orange balloons last week near her home's tennis court, their helium nearly spent and a business card dangling from their tied-together strings.

When Lourd sent an e-mail to the address on the card, she received surprising news: The balloons, the idea of a 9-year-old girl, had been released one day earlier in the western Michigan city of Grand Rapids.

They apparently made the 630-mile trip to Sherman in about 13 hours despite _ or perhaps helped by _ the storms that swept eastward into Connecticut during that time.

Brian Buck, 35, had released the balloons, prompted by his daughter Anna's curiosity about how far they'd travel. Buck, a stay-at-home father who works part-time at a store that sells balloons, called it "all just a bit of fun, really."

"We once saw a TV report about a balloon that was released on St. Valentine Day and ended up in France, so my daughter said we should try to do the same thing," he told The News-Times of Danbury. "We have to get rid of the balloons every night anyway because the helium inside can affect the store's security detection system."

Still inflated, the balloons have found a welcoming home with Lourd.

"They still have air in them so I think I'll just keep them," she said. "They'll make a nice little ornament."

http://www.bismarcktribune.com/articles/2006/07/10/ap/strange/d8ipcm3gh.txt