your connection to The Boston Globe

Pilots canvass Colorado in search of stranded

More than 40 are rescued

A plow hit the streets in downtown Salina, Kan., yesterday. Northwest Kansas was blanketed with up to 30 inches of snow. More than 40,000 homes and businesses in the state lost power. (Rodrick Reidsma/salina journal via associated press)

DENVER -- A fleet of small planes canvassed snowed-out roads in southeastern Colorado yesterday, searching for stranded travelers after a powerful winter storm piled snowdrifts up to 10 feet high on the Eastern Plains.

More than 40 motorists and others were rescued from the storm, which also buried the foothills west of Denver with more than 2 feet of snow. More than 650 people spent Saturday night in shelters in southern and eastern Colorado, state Division of Emergency Management spokeswoman Polly White said.

The storm that had once stretched nearly from Canada to Mexico was still spreading snow yesterday from northern Minnesota to southern Kansas. One traffic death was blamed on the storm in Colorado and a tornado killed one person Friday in Texas.

Governor Bill Owens of Colorado, who declared a statewide disaster emergency both for the latest storm and for the pre-Christmas blizzard a week earlier, flew over southeastern Colorado yesterday.

"It's just completely covered with snow," Owens said during a phone interview from a state airplane. "You can't see where certain state highways are, you can only tell because of the telephone poles."

Northwest Kansas was blanketed with 15 to 30 inches, and drifts blew up to 15 feet high. Ice snapped tree limbs and power lines, leaving more than 40,000 homes and businesses without power.

Governor Kathleen Sebelius declared a disaster emergency and mobilized the National Guard. The state Highway Patrol contributed an airplane to search for stranded motorists.

"This is a very significant storm; it's in the record books," said Scott Blair, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The Oklahoma Panhandle received up to 18 inches of snow, and major roads remained closed yesterday, officials said. About 5,000 customers of Tri-County Electric Cooperative were still without electricity.

"They don't have any reports of injuries or fatalities, however they haven't been able to get out to the outlying rural areas to check, but are now checking on the homes where they know there are elderly people or those with special needs," said Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

In New Mexico, the storm dumped up to 2 feet of snow on Albuquerque and 31 inches in Red River. In North Dakota, the city of Ashley received the state's heaviest snowfall, with 16 inches.

The Colorado Wing of the Civil Air Patrol planned to send a dozen small planes over the area to look for stranded vehicles, trapped motorists, or stranded livestock, wing spokesman Steve Hamilton said.

"When you're spotting stranded vehicles, they're pretty easy to see from the air," he said.

The storm struck on Thursday, but by yesterday morning many roads in eastern Colorado were still closed, including eastbound Interstate 70 from Denver to Kansas and southbound Interstate 25 from Pueblo, Colo ., to New Mexico.

In Kansas, the storm closed all or portions of more than a dozen roads, and crews were working to clear the westbound lanes of Interstate 70, the state's main east-west corridor.

Once a section of road is cleared, snow drifts back over it, forcing crews to plow the road again, said Ron Kaufman, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Transportation.

"Mother nature is in charge," he said. "We can do what we can. We're trying."

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives