- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2006

DENVER (AP) — Thousands of travelers who got stranded at Denver International Airport trying to beat the Christmas rush experienced a second frustrating day yesterday, forging through a snowbound city to hotels or opting to bed down again in the terminal.

The nation’s fifth-busiest airport, which was shut to all flights Wednesday, wasn’t expected to reopen until noon today, creating a ripple effect that disrupted air travel around the country just as the holiday travel crush began to build.

“We can’t go home; the highway’s closed. We can’t get to the car; it’s 10 miles away. And the hotels are not cheap,” said Jodie Hartfield of Colorado Springs, who spent a sleepless night squeezed between a signboard and a phone booth with her husband and three young children.

The closure of Denver International — once touted as an “all-weather airport” — prompted cancellation of more than 2,000 flights nationwide, airline officials said.

Nearly 5,000 travelers had been stranded at the airport by the storm, which dropped as much as 25 inches of snow in the Denver area and up to 3 feet in the mountains. But by yesterday afternoon, buses and shuttles were making regular pickups, and a steady flow of people headed toward the parking lots. By nightfall, about 1,500 remained, spokesman Steve Snyder said.

“It feels like I’m a refugee,” said Lisa Maurer, a University of Wyoming student who was stuck at the Denver airport as she tried to make her way home to Germany. About 4,700 people hunkered down with her overnight after all flights there were canceled — more than 1,000 of them Wednesday and yesterday morning alone.

Outside, Denver’s streets were empty, and long stretches of highway in eastern Colorado were so impassable even the mail couldn’t get through. Bus and light rail service in a six-county region was suspended.

Cathy Stuart, 44, a sales representative from Dallas, spent the night on the airport’s stone floor after her flight home was canceled.

“I don’t feel bad, but I just want to get out of here,” she said.

A snowstorm also dumped up to 18 inches on New Mexico, icing roads and closing schools, and the National Weather Service warned that another storm was taking aim at New Mexico tonight.

Heavy snow also fell on southeastern Wyoming on Wednesday closing interstate highways, stranding travelers and sending government workers home early in Cheyenne.

“We have drifts up to 6 feet high in some locations, and in other areas, it is completely dry on the asphalt and concrete,” said Mike Sowko, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Cheyenne.

Weather Service program manager Byron Louis said this was the most powerful storm to hit Colorado since March 2003.

Mail service was canceled in the eastern half of the state because mail carriers and trucks delivering mail four days before Christmas couldn’t get through.

“We don’t want to take the risk of clogging up the system just by being out there,” said Al DeSarro, a U.S. Postal Service spokesman in Denver. “We’re considering delivering on Sunday to make up for what’s sure to be a backlog of mail.”

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