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Storm drops 6 feet of snow, cripples Wyoming, Colorado

©Associated Press
March 20, 2003

DENVER -- Denver's worst blizzard in at least two decades paralyzed parts of Colorado and Wyoming for a second day Wednesday, closing the city's biggest airport, stranding thousands of travelers and leaving as much as 6 feet of snow in the mountains.

National Guard troops were sent to rescue stranded motorists.

Almost 1 1/2 feet of wet, heavy flakes fell Wednesday at Denver International Airport and drifted to 4 feet, ripping its fabric roof and forcing officials to move nearly 4,000 people stranded by the storm out of the main terminal.

The storm, which lumbered into Colorado with rain turning to snow Monday and Tuesday, was heading slowly east and expected to taper off later Wednesday, one of the final days of winter. A blizzard warning remained in effect from the Colorado-Wyoming line to New Mexico.

The snow was blamed for at least one traffic death, recorded in Wyoming. Interstate 70 remained closed from the Rockies almost to the Kansas line. To the north in Wyoming, Interstates 25 and 80 remained closed, isolating Cheyenne and other communities.

Around the region, gusts whipped snow into drifts that blocked streets and driveways.

Laramie County Sheriff Danny Glick did not even try to get to work from his home on the prairie about 15 miles east of town.

"I can walk on top of my barn," he said. Stranded inside were chickens, geese -- and the heavy equipment he needed to use to dig through the 9-foot drifts.

The Colorado National Guard sent 21 Humvees to rescue stranded motorists. In some cities, police ticketed motorists who didn't have a good reason to be out.

Denver security manager Keith Moore waited two hours for a bus that never showed up, finally catching a ride with a snowplow driver.

Travelers filled up motels along the closed interstates. Hundreds of truck drivers slept in their rigs.

In the mountains west of Denver, wind swept 6-foot snow accumulations into 8-foot drifts. The American Red Cross turned four public buildings into shelters for 350 motorists in Idaho Springs, 35 miles west of Denver.

Mary Courtney Ning's car was stuck in more than 4 feet of snow in Evergreen, in the foothills about 25 miles west of Denver. Residents pooled food and spent hours shoveling, she said. "We got to know our neighbors," she said.

Denver International remained closed Wednesday. About 3,700 travelers who spent the night sleeping on the floor, couches and cots were moved to a separate concourse after a tear several hundred feet long was discovered in the Teflon-coated, fiberglass roof of the main terminal.

The storm brought back memories of the December 1982 blizzard, which dropped two feet of snow on Denver in 24 hours, making major streets impassable for several days.

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