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Early Snowstorm Hits Four States

October 06, 2005|From Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. — Portions of Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming were hit by a slow-moving snowstorm that knocked out power, closed roads and dumped as much as 2 feet of snow by Wednesday night.

Numerous power outages were reported and some schools were closed by the storm, which began Tuesday. Drifting snow contributed to road closings, and the National Guard was called out in North Dakota to aid the Highway Patrol in rescuing stranded motorists.

By nightfall, hundreds of people in vehicles, including three buses, had been rescued with equipment ranging from snow plows to bulldozers, said Rick Robinson of the state Department of Emergency Services. There were no reports of injuries.

The storm, which moved in from the Rockies, packed winds up to 50 mph and created blizzard conditions in some areas.

"It is, on our records, probably one of the earliest ones, as far as our recorded history goes, in 126, 130 years," said Sam Walker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck, N.D.

About 8,000 customers served by NorthWestern Energy initially lost electricity in communities in central and southern Montana, including Billings, spokeswoman Claudia Rapkoch said.

"There is still a lot of work that needs to be done," she said. "The work is slow.... A few are brought back up and then you lose a couple more."

Dan Sharp, a spokesman for Montana-Dakota Utilities Co., said customers from Miles City, Mont., to Bismarck, N.D., were without electricity, although some were being brought back online slowly. He didn't have an estimate of how many customers had been affected, but said it was in the thousands.

In Miles City alone, as many as 3,000 customers were left in the dark, starting about 1 a.m. Wednesday, Sharp said, and about two-thirds remained without power into the evening.

Interstate 94 from Glendive, Mont., to near Bismarck, N.D., was closed.

"It's really treacherous -- heavy, deep snow. Visibility is just really poor. It's so heavy that vehicles just can't push through it," North Dakota Highway Patrol Capt. Mark Bethke said.

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