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Post-holiday travelers left stranded across the Plains

Nov. 29, 2005

Associated Press
Robert Scotton, with Ace Towing, hooks up a chain Monday to a car that slid off the road in Klamath Falls, Ore. Four to 6 inches of snow were recorded in the area Monday, with another 2 to 4 inches expected Monday night.
The Associated Press

DENVER -- The first big snowstorm of the season closed hundreds of miles of major highways across the Plains states Monday. The storm was part of a treacherous system that also sent tornadoes ripping through Arkansas and Kansas.

Six-foot drifts were common in eastern Colorado, western Kansas and Nebraska, the National Weather Service said. Wind up to 60 mph piled drifts 3 feet high in Pierre, S.D., where state government offices were closed. Snow fell as far south as the Texas Panhandle.

Four highway deaths were blamed on the weather.

Most of a stretch of more than 330 miles of Interstate 70 was closed Monday because of poor visibility in blowing snow from the Denver area east to Russell, Kan., stranding travelers headed home after Thanksgiving. One accident involved up to 25 cars Sunday.

"We'll just go when it's safe. We have a four-wheel drive vehicle but that doesn't make you any safer in this," said Julie Ward of Wichita, Kan., who got one of the last rooms available at the Tyme Square Inn in Limon, Colo.

More than 300 stranded travelers were put up for the night in Goodland, Kan., at a National Guard Armory, a church and a field house. Others slept on pews at the First Baptist Church in Limon, Colo.

"You can't even see," said Bill Kanitig of the Sherman County, Kan., sheriff's office. "The highway is snowpacked, and it's slick and everybody's sliding off."

The South Dakota Highway Patrol shut down a 175-mile stretch of Interstate 90 on Monday from Kadoka to Mitchell. In central Nebraska, a 60-mile stretch of Interstate 80 was closed Monday from North Platte east to Lexington.

The Minnesota State Patrol urged people not to travel in the northwestern part of the state, and schools in large parts of western Minnesota were closed.

The National Weather Service posted blizzard warnings and winter storm warnings for parts of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota. Wind, snow and ice snapped power lines blacking out thousands of homes in eastern South Dakota.

High wind or tornadoes destroyed at least eight homes in Arkansas. Officials planned to assess other reports of damage Monday.

About 7,500 homes were without power in Arkansas late Sunday, Entergy spokesman James Thompson said.

A tornado damaged more than 30 homes at Fort Riley, Kan. A fort spokesman, Army Maj. Christian T. Kubik, said 17 families were homeless.

"We were fortunate nobody was hurt," he said.

Grass fires driven by the storm system's wind blackened thousands of acres in parts of six Texas counties and in Oklahoma.