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Snowstorm Paralyzes Plains States

March 9, 1998

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ Authorities ordered schools closed and motorists off the roads today after a powerful winter storm dropped more than a foot of snow in the Midwest.

A 250-mile stretch of Interstate 80 across Nebraska was closed for a third day after a storm that stranded motorists in their cars. State road crews hampered by high winds were pulled from the streets at nightfall Sunday.

The storm was blamed for two traffic deaths in Kansas and one traffic death in Wisconsin.

``Things really aren’t getting any better,″ said Mary Jo Hall, state Department of Roads spokeswoman. ``Motorists are going around barricades and that is making things worse. They are going on side roads and getting stuck. We need people to stay off the roadway.″

The snow blew out of the central Rockies on Saturday, closing some roads in Colorado, and by Sunday stretched from Kansas to Upper Michigan.

In Nebraska, frustration mounted among those stranded.

Rescue teams in Nebraska City southeast of Lincoln had to fetch motorists who tried to travel Sunday but became snowbound. At least 10 semitrailer trucks and several cars slid into ditches or stopped short in the middle of snow-packed highways.

``They’re not using good sense,″ said an angry Otoe County Emergency Manager Don Chapin. ``It’s very dangerous for anyone out there on the highway.″

Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa bore the brunt of the storm with 18 inches in Kansas, 13 inches in central Iowa and more than a foot in parts of Nebraska. Drifts 8 feet high were reported in Des Moines.

Flights in and out of Des Moines International Airport were canceled for part of the day.

Kansas dispatched National Guard troops to enforce roadblocks Sunday night, after 60 miles of Interstate 70 west of Topeka was shut down.

Rain, sleet and snow also made travel hazardous in parts of Wisconsin.

``I can’t hardly get out of the parking lot. We’ve plowed it three times,″ said Rose Fredrickson, a manager at a truck stop in Verona, Wis.

Stranded motorists filled up roadside motels in Kansas.

About 45 students from the University of Wisconsin-Stout spent Saturday night and Sunday night snowbound at a truck stop along I-80 west of Omaha, watching movies on television and talking about the weather. They had been headed for Jackson, Wyo., on a ski trip.

``This is my one week of vacation,″ said Dave Kleber, 23, a friend of one of the Wisconsin students who was along on the bus trip. ``I’m doing it. Sitting in the snow.″

A snowstorm in Nebraska in October caused nearly $42 million in damage, but this winter has been unusually mild in the northern Plains because of the weather patterns set up by El Nino, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Fobert in Omaha.

Meteorologists could not pin this specific storm on El Nino because Nebraska usually gets a major snowstorm in March and even April.

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