- The Washington Times - Monday, January 1, 2007

DENVER (AP) — Pilots flew a dozen planes over Colorado and Kansas yesterday to look for any snowbound travelers following a blizzard that dumped nearly 3 feet of snow and piled it in drifts 15 feet high.

Utility crews, meanwhile, struggled to restore electricity to tens of thousands of homes and businesses.

The storm, which struck on Thursday, had dwindled to heavy rainfall yesterday along the East Coast, but snow still choked a few roads in southeastern Colorado and western Kansas.

“Life and safety are still the No. 1 priorities. We need to get the roads open so people can get out and deal with the situation,” said Dick Vnuk, chief of operations for the Colorado Division of Emergency Management.

The huge storm was blamed for at least 12 deaths in four states. It was the second blizzard in as many weeks.

The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) sent six planes into the air yesterday over Colorado’s Kit Carson County, where there had been reports of more people snowbound along Interstate 70, even though that highway was reopened Sunday after two days, patrol 1st Lt. Steve Hamilton said.

On Sunday, CAP crews spotted two stranded vehicles with five persons near the Kansas state line, along with several trucks whose crews chose to stay with their rigs, Lt. Hamilton said.

Several of the planes were equipped with infrared heat-sensing equipment to help spot stranded livestock. Authorities were considering using C-130 cargo planes and snowmobiles to get hay to snowbound animals. They wanted to avoid a repeat of a 1997 blizzard that killed up to 30,000 animals at a cost of $28 million.

In Kansas, six planes conducted a similar search for snowbound travelers.

Some roads in southeastern Colorado were choked by snowdrifts that measured 10 feet high, and 15-foot drifts had been piled up in western Kansas.

Only a few sections of Kansas state highways were still closed yesterday.

“We’re chipping away at it,” said Ron Kaufman, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Transportation. Sunshine and slightly warmer temperatures were helping the effort yesterday, he said.

There was no way into or out of the western Kansas town of Sharon Springs yesterday, but the community of 835 did not lose electricity, said Bill Hassett, manager of the town power plant.

“We’re snowed under,” Mr. Hassett said. “We’re just in the process of digging out. We had total 36 inches of snow. Thank God we kept the lights on.”

However, about 60,000 homes and businesses elsewhere in western Kansas still had no power, a state spokeswoman said, and utility officials said it could take more than a week to get them all back on line.

Kansas National Guard troops had been out delivering generators, fuel and supplies to assisted living centers and shelters “to be sure people’s lives were protected,” said Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for Kansas Emergency Management.

In Nebraska, about 15,000 customers remained without power, said Beth Boesch, spokeswoman for Nebraska Public Power District. Utility crews in the Oklahoma Panhandle had restored power to several towns blacked out by the storm, but up to 4,500 customers still had no electricity, mostly in rural areas.

No widespread outages were reported in Colorado.

Ten traffic deaths were blamed on the storm in Colorado, Texas and Minnesota. A tornado spawned by the same weather system killed one person in Texas, and a Kansas man was reported dead in a rural home where a generator apparently was in use during the blackout.

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