Thursday 21st December, 2006 Posted: 15:08 CIT (20:08 GMT)
DENVER (AP) – Government offices and schools were closed and mail delivery suspended for a second day Thursday after a powerful blizzard dumped more than 2 feet (60 centimeters) of snow along Colorado’s most populous region and stranded travelers.
Continental Airlines baggage handlers unload a plane in the snow after flights in and out of Denver International Airport were canceled Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2006. The National Weather Service posted blizzard warnings for most of eastern Colorado and adjoining sections of Nebraska and Kansas. As much as 20 inches of snow was forecast in Denver, where all nonessential municipal offices were closed early. Snow was predicted to fall through Thursday morning. Photo: AP
Denver, Colorado Springs and other cities along the Rocky Mountain Front Range were virtually ghost towns, with cars and sport utility vehicles slipping, sliding and crawling through thick snow toward the suburbs Wednesday.
Some 4,700 people hunkered down overnight at Denver International Airport, where flights in and out were canceled, spokesman Steve Snyder said.
"It feels like I’m a refugee," said Lisa Maurer, a graduate student at the University of Wyoming who was stuck at the airport while on her way home to Germany.
Bus and light rail service in a six–county region was suspended. The State Patrol reported a rash of collisions, some involving several vehicles, but no fatalities.
More than 30 inches (76 centimeters) of snow fell in the mountains and up to 2 feet (60 centimeters) fell in the Denver metro area, with snow expected to let up by noon Thursday. Winds cut visibility and whipped up drifts several feet high on the plains.
Colorado Governor Bill Owens declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard, which assisted dozens of motorists on the highways around Denver and delivered diapers, formula and bottled water to the airport.
Long stretches of Interstates 70 and 25, the main east–west and north–south routes through the Mountain West, were closed. Interstate 76 was closed from Denver to Nebraska.
"They pulled everyone off the highway," said Leon Medina, manager of a truck stop on Interstate 25 in Walsenburg, about 130 miles (210 kilometers) south of Denver. "Cars are all around the building. Trucks are all over, trucks and cars pulled into ditches."
At least 270 people took refuge at seven American Red Cross shelters in the Denver metro area, though that number was expected to rise as motorists arrived by the busload early Thursday, said Robert Thompson, spokesman for the Mile High chapter.
Shelters also were open in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, and the Red Cross provided 140 cots for nearly 350 people stranded at a Greyhound bus station in downtown Denver, Thompson said.
Weather Service program manager Byron Louis said it was the most powerful storm to hit Colorado since March 2003, when a massive blizzard dumped up to 11 feet (3.3 meters) of snow and was blamed for at least six deaths.
Major malls closed early Wednesday, and one, Flatirons Crossing Mall in Broomfield, northwest of Denver, offered warmth for motorists stranded along U.S. 36, the major link between Denver and Boulder.
Mail service was canceled in the eastern half of the state because roads were impassable for mail carriers getting to work and for trucks delivering mail four days before Christmas.
Denver International Airport was closed to all flights at mid–afternoon Wednesday, and more than 1,000 flights were canceled through Thursday. No time was set for runways to reopen.