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Snowstorm Closes Southwest Interstates, Strands Hundreds : Blizzard Kills 6, Doubles Snowfall Record in El Paso

December 14, 1987|Associated Press

A major snowstorm closed schools and made driving hazardous across the Plains today, after stranding hundreds of travelers in the Southwest, dropping up to 28 inches of snow and more than doubling the previous snowfall record in El Paso.

"We have snow like this (in Vermont) sometimes, but I've never seen it blow so hard," said John Gilbert of Brookfield, Vt., who was one of about 150 people snowbound overnight in the City Hall at Mountainair, N.M. "You could hardly see in front of you."

At least six deaths were blamed on the storm.

After building up over the Southwest, the storm took off to the northeast across the Plains.

The Kansas City, Mo., area "seems to be the bull's-eye" for the storm, said Bob Barnicle of the National Weather Service at Kansas City International Airport. "The heaviest snow is going to fall in a path that runs from Wichita (Kan.) over us and northeast of us."

Warnings Posted

The storm was expected to extend into the upper Midwest during the night and warnings of more than six inches were posted for Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Snow blew into Kansas and Missouri this morning, with up to seven inches in southwestern Kansas. Scores of schools across the two states were closed and many Kansas roads were snowpacked and icy. Wind gusts cut visibility.

Cars were "sliding all over the place," said Kansas City police Sgt. Thomas Spencer. "Everything's moving. It's just hazardous."

The Oklahoma Panhandle had 10 inches of snow and the Highway Patrol said all roads in the western half of the state were snow-packed and hazardous.

The storm dumped 28 inches of snow near Rye, Colo., in the state's southern mountains, with 20 inches in downtown Rye. A 70-car pileup blamed on the weather in Denver closed part of Interstate 70 for two hours on Sunday.

New Mexico was hardest hit. Among the many highways closed by state police, Interstate 40 was shut down from the Arizona border past Albuquerque to within about 40 miles of the Texas state line. I-40 was closed again in the Texas Panhandle from the state line to Amarillo.

Hundreds Stranded

Several hundred motorists were stranded Sunday along I-40, and New Mexico Gov. Garrey E. Carruthers sent National Guard units to help police in Torrance County, east of Albuquerque.

"It felt like about minus 20 out there," said Tyrone Finch of Clovis, N.M., who was in his car nearly four hours Sunday before help arrived. "I don't think you'd get 20 feet if you tried to walk."

Ruidoso, N.M., near Alamogordo, got 19 inches and Estancia had 18 inches with drifts 5 feet deep. A number of school districts canceled today's classes.

High wind, with an unofficial peak of over 90 m.p.h. outside Albuquerque, knocked out power to about 7,000 customers in the city.

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