Planes hunt for motorists in storm


Published: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 31, 2006 at 9:29 p.m.
DENVER - A fleet of small planes canvassed snowed-covered roads in Colorado on Sunday, searching for stranded travelers after a powerful winter storm piled drifts up to 10 feet high across much of the Plains.
National Guard troops have rescued 44 people from the storm, which buried the foothills west of Denver with more than 2 feet of snow. More than 650 people spent Saturday night in shelters, officials said.
The storm that had once stretched nearly from Canada to Mexico was still dumping snow Sunday from Minnesota to Kansas.
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, who declared a statewide emergency for the latest storm and for a pre-Christmas blizzard a week earlier, flew over the frosty landscape Sunday.
''You can't see where certain state highways are. You can only tell because of the telephone poles,'' Owens said during a phone interview from an airplane.
One traffic death was blamed on the storm in Colorado.
The National Guard was also mobilized in Kansas, where the storm left more than 44,000 homes and businesses without power and closed stretches of more than a dozen highways.
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius declared an emergency after parts of the state were blanketed with 15 to 32 inches of snow and drifts up to 15 feet high. The state Highway Patrol contributed an airplane to find stranded motorists.
The Oklahoma Panhandle measured up to 18 inches of snow, closing major roads. At least 5,000 utility customers were without electricity.
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 stretch 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.''
Al Butkus, spokesman for the Kansas utility Aquila Inc., said it could be a week before power is restored to all customers.
''We've gotten 3 inches of ice on wires and connectors, and that ice stays there until it gets above freezing,'' Butkus said. ''And the temperatures aren't moving above freezing.''
Warmer weather was forecast for later in the week.
The storm brought Denver to a virtual standstill and crimped holiday travel Thursday and Friday. The major carriers at Denver International Airport, which closed down for two days during a pre-Christmas storm, canceled about 20 percent of their scheduled flights on Thursday and Friday but were flying full or nearly full schedules Saturday.

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