Drifting Snow Halts Travel, Disrupts Power on Plains

From Associated Press

A snowstorm shut down part of the Plains on Tuesday with blinding wind-driven snow and drifts up to eight feet high closing highways and schools, stranding travelers and pulling down power lines.

Kansas Gov. Mike Hayden declared a disaster for the western third of his state, where National Guardsmen already were rescuing people and had opened armories for stranded travelers.

Nearly all roads in western Kansas were closed, with drifts five to seven feet high. State Highway Patrol officials said little effort was being made to clear the roads because of the unrelenting wind and blizzard conditions.

As many as 10,000 homes in northwest Kansas were without electrical power, with the road conditions hampering efforts of utility crews to restore service, utility officials said.

Rare Intensity

Early spring snowstorms are not rare in western Kansas "but to have one of this intensity is unusual," said Jim Johnson of the National Weather Service in Dodge City, Kan. The last storm of such intensity was 30 years ago, he said.

The Oklahoma Panhandle was virtually closed off, and highways in central Nebraska were nearly impassable. In Colorado, 10 miles of Interstate 70 from the Kansas border to Burlington were closed. About 165 miles of I-70 was closed in Kansas.

"The main thing . . . we've got just stranded motorists here in town," said Lt. Larry Warlick of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol in Guymon. He said there were about 200 cars parked in town. The state Transportation Department reported drifts six to eight feet high.

The National Weather Service posted blizzard warnings for part of western Kansas. Snow also fell in a belt across Kansas and Nebraska into South Dakota and Oklahoma, and the Texas Panhandle had blowing snow.

Sheriff Rufe Jordan of Gray County, Tex., called the storm there "the worst I've ever seen, and I've been here 71 years."

Vehicles Stranded

The Finney County, Kan., sheriff's department said 75 to 100 vehicles were stranded on highways around Garden City. Officials said many motorists complicated the problem by going around barricades and then getting stuck. Schools, the courthouse and many businesses were closed.

On the eastern side of the snow belt, heavy rain bloated streams in parts of Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska.

In eastern Nebraska, where at least five inches of rain had fallen since Sunday, a threat of flooding forced school closings from Memphis to Deshler to Cedar Rapids. U.S. Highway 136 west of Beatrice was closed because of high water.

Wind and heavy, wet snow were blamed for downed power lines in Oklahoma. "At least two-thirds of the county is without electricity," Beaver County Sheriff Bill Cassingham said.

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