Thousands without power, roads still closed as snowstorm slams across the Plains
BISMARCK, N.D. – Crews on Tuesday gradually reopened major highways that had been closed by the Plains’ first blizzard of the season, stranding post-Thanksgiving travelers. Thousands of people remained without electricity.Five deaths were blamed on slippery roads in Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. A sixth person was killed by a tornado spun off by the huge storm system in Arkansas.Remnants of the system headed over the upper Great Lakes on Tuesday after the storm dumped snow as far south as the Texas Panhandle. As much as 20 inches of snow fell at Kennebec, S.D., while Chamberlain, S.D., was choked by drifts up to 8 feet high.Utility officials estimated that 50,000 customers were blacked out across eastern South Dakota on Tuesday, and many communities in North Dakota had no electricity. Nebraska also had scattered outages. The morning’s low at Grand Forks, N.D., was 14 degrees.South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds said Tuesday that electricity might not be restored to some areas for a few days as roads blocked by drifted snow kept utility crews to finding all the damaged lines. Power companies in North Dakota said it could take days to restore power.It was the worst storm to hit eastern and central South Dakota in nearly a decade, Rounds said.Firefighters in Fairmount, N.D., offered the town’s roughly 400 residents rides to the community center, which has a backup generator, but the blackout also shut down the town’s pumps.”We still have water but it’s getting pretty low here,” Fairmount Fire Chief Dave Jacobson said.Utility crews were out early Tuesday working to restore electricity in northwestern Minnesota. “Bless ’em, they’re just the cavalry,” said Chris Kling, a spokeswoman for Otter Tail Power Co.At Hankinson, N.D., people took refuge at the Dakota Magic Casino, which also has its own generator, said customer service representative Cheri Braun. “Our hotel can’t hold any more,” she said.Interstate 94 was closed overnight for about 100 miles across eastern North Dakota from Fargo to Jamestown, but the Highway Patrol reopened it Tuesday morning. I-29 also was reopened from Fargo south to the South Dakota line, and South Dakota authorities said their section would reopen by midday.South Dakota officials said traffic also would be restored on I-90, which had been closed for nearly 200 miles across the state. In Nebraska, I-80 was reopened along a 200-mile stretch, the state road department said.At least 600 travelers were still stranded Tuesday at community shelters in central Nebraska’s Dawson County, said emergency manager Brian Woldt.”At times they get grouchy. They’re wanting to get down the road, but for the most part they’re doing fine,” Woldt said.Colorado and Kansas had reopened more than 400 miles of eastbound I-70 between Denver and Salina, Kan., after two days.The storm also disrupted mail delivery in the region Monday, and some post offices were still without power Tuesday. Clem Felchle, the postal service’s district manager in Sioux Falls, S.D., said carriers were back at work Tuesday but they may have trouble reaching outlying areas.Almost 1,000 people spent Sunday night in shelters along I-70 in Kansas, including more than 200 on cots and exercise mats at Fort Hays State University in Hays, officials said.Among those at Fort Hays State were Mike and Ilona Dorsey, returning to Denver after visiting relatives in Topeka.”We stopped at every town from Colby to here and couldn’t get a hotel,” Dorsey told The Hays Daily News. “Everything was filled.”—Associated Press writer Chet Brokaw in Pierre, S.D., and Emily Fredrix in Omaha, Neb., contributed to this report.