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Storm Hits Plains States With Up to Three Feet of Snow; State of Emergency Declared in

October 26, 1997

Storm Hits Plains States With Up to Three Feet of Snow; State of Emergency Declared in ColoradoBy ROBERT WELLER

DENVER (AP) _ The first blizzard of the season shut down much of the western Plains on Saturday, with up to 3 feet of wind-driven snow closing hundreds of miles of highways and leaving travelers snowbound in bus depots, airports and truck stops.

Even people trained for severe conditions couldn’t reach their destinations: search and rescue specialist Micki Marti tried to get from Denver to her home in Last Chance, but never made it beyond Byers, 25 miles east of Denver on Interstate 70.

``I even tried the back roads. I’m only 28 miles from home. But it was all closed,″ Marti said by telephone from a Red Cross shelter at the Byers American Legion Hall, where she was one of about 25 stranded travelers.

Interstates and other highways were closed across a large part of eastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming, along with adjoining sections of Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico.

``We’re flat shut down,″ Lincoln County sheriff’s spokesman Dale Briggs said in Hugo, Colo. ``The only things moving are four-wheel-drives and emergency vehicles.″

``It’s just nasty,″ said Officer Cary Amos of the Sherman County Sheriff’s Department in Goodland, Kan.

Visibility in Liberal, Kan., was down to about 10 feet in blowing snow Saturday afternoon, said dispatcher Sandra Armstrong.

Snowfall totals by Saturday morning in Colorado included 38 inches at Coal Creek Canyon, 24 in Boulder and 20 inches in Denver, with up to 4 feet a higher elevations, the National Weather Service said. Snow fell as far south as the Texas Panhandle as the storm rolled eastward across the Plains.

``Fortunately I don’t know of any deaths,″ said Gov. Roy Romer. ``But we have our work cut out for us. We have to get people out of their cars and into shelters.″

Wind blew at up to 50 mph across the Plains and overnight temperatures in eastern Colorado fell into the teens and 20s.

The storm caused scattered power outages in several Colorado communities, and utility officials said they couldn’t begin work on restoring service until the wind died down.

The worldwide El Nino phenomenon, expected to give parts of the West a wet, stormy winter, ``very possibly could be″ involved in the severity of the October blizzard, said Frank Denton at the National Weather Service office in Denver.

But because of the bad weather, Denton said, ``We haven’t had time to research it. We can’t even get people to come to work.″

Romer declared a state of emergency and mobilized the National Guard to rescue stranded motorists. The Colorado Department of Transportation said it had 1,600 snowplows working Saturday.

``Snowplow drivers reported snowdrifts were covering cars,″ department spokesman Dan Hopkins said.

Colorado Springs pulled its snowplows off the roads because the snow was falling too fast.

Thousands of hungry travelers were stranded overnight at the Denver International Airport, which was closed most of Saturday. Airport spokesman Chuck Cannon said only a handful of terminal restaurants were open so a flight kitchen was preparing meals. The Red Cross was also handing out sandwiches and coffee at DIA.

The departure of the Denver Broncos for a scheduled Sunday game in Buffalo was delayed. ``I’ve been covering the Broncos for 25 years and it’s the first time I’m flying to Buffalo for better weather,″ said KUSA-TV sportscaster Ron Zapollo.

College football games between Colorado State University and Tulsa, and the University of Northern Colorado and Nebraska-Omaha were postponed to Sunday.

The city of Denver, however, had gone on alert a day before the storm and major streets were kept open Saturday.

Up to a foot of snow on the Nebraska Panhandle forced the State Patrol to close a 107-mile stretch of I-80 from Big Springs to the Wyoming state line.

At Kimball, Neb., tractor-trailer rigs had jammed the parking lot of the Beef and Brunch since Friday night.

``The weather scared them,″ restaurant manager Vonna Scott said of the truck drivers.

In Boise City, Okla., waitress Alda Alba said it was snowing ``sideways, horizontally, vertically, every which way.″

Hundreds of miles of highways were closed around the southeastern corner of Wyoming, and the state Highway Patrol said road crews had to cut through drifts up to 3 feet high.

Interstate 25 between New Mexico and Colorado was closed by snow and ice at Raton Pass.

``This is as early as I’ve ever seen it get this wild,″ Mike Schmidt of Mesa, Ariz., said Saturday at Raton, N.M., where he spent the night in a motel. He said he drove through snow almost all the way across New Mexico on Friday.

The snow stopped mail deliveries in some areas, including Goodland, Kan., and Denver. ``The trucks cannot get away from the docks. None of them did. We didn’t get a bit of mail,″ said Don Norris, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in Fort Morgan, Colo.

Carriers had trouble reaching mail boxes in Goodland. ``They couldn’t see anything and nobody could see them in their white vehicles,″ said acting postmaster Robert Sherman.

The road closures in Wyoming shut down postal deliveries out of Cheyenne for the first time in at least 15 years, said delivery supervisor Marie Pitt.

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