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Roads slowly open on northern Plains, snow heads south to Gulf Coast

December 18, 1996

STEELE, N.D. (AP) _ Snowbound cross-country bus passengers whooped and hollered for joy Wednesday as westbound Interstate 94 began opening up to traffic after a two-day blizzard.

Greyhound buses loaded up at mid-morning at the Lone Steer Motel as the sun peeked through on parts of the northern Plains.

``One day here was OK,″ said Denise Nicks, who was headed to Eugene, Ore., from Massachusetts to visit relatives when her bus slid into a ditch Monday near Steele. ``But two days is too much.″

Going east, toward Fargo, the highway remained closed by snowdrifts and blowing snow as the blizzard moved into Minnesota, closing more roads there.

Police wouldn’t let anyone drive out of Marshall, Minn., where trucker Tom Leesch had been stuck in a motel since Tuesday morning because of the blowing snow

``You could hardly see off the hood of your truck,″ Leesch said. ``You couldn’t see any lines on the road.″

There was no word when North Dakota crews would open north-south I-29, where 31 people were rescued Wednesday after spending the night at a rest stop near Christine, about 20 miles south of Fargo.

Duane Isaacson spent the night in the wayside’s men’s room. ``It was either A, the men’s room or, B, the ladies’ room, and I chose the men’s room,″ Isaacson, of Center, said by cellular phone.

Highways had opened up in Wyoming and much of South Dakota, which had reports of drifts up to 9 feet high near the western town of Wall.

The blizzard was part of a sharp wedge of arctic air driving southward across the nation. Morning temperatures fell all the way to 1 above zero in the Texas Panhandle, and even New Orleans got a very rare trace of snowflakes.

New Orleans City Hall closed early Wednesday, as did many southern Louisiana schools and businesses.

Residents of Alabama’s Gulf Coast were warned of freezing temperatures and many schools closed early as sleet and snow flew in the state’s western counties.

Snow plow crews were on standby at Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport.

On the northern Plains, wind chills hit 50 below zero in the Dakotas, Nebraska and western Minnesota.

``It’s colder than you know what up here,″ said Dave Eby, an owner of Eby’s Inc. gas station at O’Neill, Neb.

People were urged not to travel at all across southwestern Minnesota because stranded vehicles interfered with plows.

South Dakota was more emphatic. Bypassing barriers and traveling on closed roads is illegal and violators face arrest and $200 fines, said state Highway Patrol Superintendent Gene Abdallah.

Even railroad freight service across Minnesota and the Dakotas was delayed because some crews couldn’t get to work, said John Bergene at CP Rail.

Farmers and ranchers worried about their cattle.

``They shiver, they got snow on their backs. They are cold. I know I’d be cold if I had to stand out there all day and all night,″ said Mark Koenig of Carson, N.D.

Fellow Carson farmer Dan Stewart said there’s no romance to life on the open range when blizzards blow.

``This is when survival and protecting what feeds you and your family is most important, and what you look like and all those glamorous things are the last thing on your mind,″ Stewart said. ``It gets down to where it’s simply survival.″

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