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Storm Hits Plains States With Up to 47 Inches of Snow; Search Mounts in Wyoming for Two

October 26, 1997

Storm Hits Plains States With Up to 47 Inches of Snow; Search Mounts in Wyoming for Two Missing Forest Service WorkersBy 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.

In a storm compared to the paralyzing Christmas blizzard of 1982, interstates and other highways were closed across a large part of eastern Colorado. Roads were also shut down in southeastern Wyoming and adjoining sections of Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico as the storm churned east.

``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 across dozens of highways was reduced to nearly nothing by snow whipped by winds up to 50 mph. Some 4 feet of snow was expected in the Colorado mountains, while 51 inches had already fallen at Coal Creek Canyon, 30 inches in Boulder and 22 inches in Denver.

One of the hardest hit areas was the most populous stretch of Colorado, a nearly 200-mile swath from Ft. Collins south through Denver and Colorado Springs to Pueblo. The snow finally tapered off Saturday night.

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

In southern Wyoming, a search was mounted for two U.S. Forest Service employees who didn’t return from a hunting trip Friday evening. Rangers said the pair apparently was surprised by the heavy snow.

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, ``could be″ involved in the severity of the October blizzard, said Frank Denton at the National Weather Service office in Denver.

``We haven’t had time to research it,″ he said. ``We can’t even get people to come to work.″

Colorado Springs even pulled its snowplows off the roads because the snow was falling too fast, covering cars in some cases.

Thousands of hungry travelers were stranded at Denver International Airport, which was closed most of Saturday. Airport spokesman Chuck Cannon said most restaurants were closed; a flight kitchen was open and the Red Cross was also handing out sandwiches and coffee.

The Denver Broncos’ flight to Buffalo was delayed, but the team finally flew out around 7:15 p.m. Saturday for Sunday’s game against the Bills. The chartered plane was the first flight to leave the airport since Friday night.

``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 in Ft. Collins, between Colorado State and Tulsa, and in Greeley, between the University of Northern Colorado and Nebraska-Omaha, were postponed until Sunday.

In Nebraska, up to a foot of snow forced the State Patrol to close a 125-mile stretch of Interstate 80 from Ogallala to the Wyoming state line. Hundreds of people in at least five counties were without power.

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. ``We’re just in here pouring them a good time.″

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

Hundreds of miles of highways were closed across southeastern Wyoming, where 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.

The snow stopped mail deliveries in some areas, including Denver, Cheyenne, Wyo., and Goodland, Kan.

In another western Kansas town, Oakley, travelers swamped the Kansas Country Inn, where workers booked strangers with strangers.

``They’re all just as happy as larks, out in the snow,″ inn owner Lynn Huncovsky said. ``Of course, after 30 seconds out in that stuff they’re right back inside again. It’s blowing so hard out there. It’s unreal.″

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