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70 Rescued on Snowbound Road in Plains

March 22, 1987|From Associated Press

About 70 people had to be rescued from cars snowbound along Interstate 90 in western South Dakota early Saturday, and highways were closed in northwestern Nebraska as a windy storm pummeled the northern Plains.

Rescue crews left Rapid City, S.D., late Friday and had fought their way 38 miles east on Interstate 90 to Wasta by Saturday morning, Highway Patrol Sgt. Jim Walton said.

About 70 people were pulled from stranded vehicles and were taken to the community center in Wasta, Highway Patrol Capt. Terry Mayes said.

Snowplows Idled

Even snowplows were pulled off highways after it took six hours for the machines to travel 20 miles from Rapid City to New Underwood, authorities said.

There was no word on when the motorists might be able to leave. "People are getting ready to open up their homes to take them in for the night if they have to," one resident said.

In Wall, S.D., about 50 miles east of Rapid City on Interstate 90, every motel was full and motorists took refuge in private homes and churches, Police Chief Jerry Miller said.

"At times I can't even see my neighbor's house, and that must be all of 60 feet away," he said.

Winds gusting to 65 m.p.h. drove the fresh snow into deep drifts and reduced visibility to zero in the western third of South Dakota. The northern Black Hills got the brunt of the storm, with 20 inches of snow at Lead, 18 in Spearfish Canyon, 14 in Spearfish and three inches at Rapid City, on the eastern side of the mountainous area.

Gates on Highway Locked

Gates were locked Friday night across Interstate 90 from Spearfish, about 45 miles northwest of Rapid City, east to Wall, but Walton said many travelers were apparently already on the road.

By mid-morning Saturday, the Highway Patrol said the interstate was open between Spearfish and Rapid City, but visibility was limited.

Rapid City Regional Airport was closed overnight and nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base remained closed Saturday, the main gate blocked by stalled vehicles.

The northwestern Nebraska Panhandle also had snow and high wind, and the State Patrol said Highway 20 and Highway 385 around Chadron were closed for part of the day. Part of Interstate 80, west of Sidney, was closed by blowing snow.

Drifts of one to two feet were reported in the Chadron area.

150 Lose Power

The high winds in western South Dakota also made power lines slap together, tripping safety switches that cut electricity to about 150 customers. Fred Richter of West River Electric said crews had trouble getting through the snow to turn the power back on.

Central South Dakota had flooding from heavy rain and melting snow, and the Bad River at Fort Pierre, across the Missouri River from the state capital of Pierre, was expected to crest at five feet above flood stage.

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