Nat. Guard brings aid to stranded travelers

April 18, 2009 8:49:45 AM PDT
National Guard crews delivered two truckloads of cots, blankets and food Saturday morning to hundreds of travelers snowbound after a storm dropped more than 3 feet of snow on the foothills west of Denver. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Most of Interstate 70 between Vail and Golden remained closed Saturday morning since being shut down Friday afternoon, but officials were opening sections of the highway east of Idaho Springs.

A winter storm warning remained in effect for parts of the state, the National Weather Service said.

More than 500 people spent the night at three shelters after the closure of an 80-mile stretch of I-70 in the mountains, said Jim Rettew, an American Red Cross spokesman.

"We're going to stay open for as long as we're needed," Rettew said. "We're just taking it by an hourly by hourly assessment."

The heaviest snowfall was in the foothills west of Denver, with 43 inches at Pinecliffe and 36 at Black Hawk, said weather service meteorologist Scott Entrekin. He said April could sometimes be one of the state's snowiest months.

A mixture of rain and snow continued falling across the state Saturday morning, and Entrekin said the southern Denver metro area could see 2 to 5 more inches before the storm tapers off Saturday evening.

Denver International Airport was open and no flight cancelations were reported. On Friday, United Airlines, the airport's dominant carrier, canceled 76 flights.

Power lines weighed down by snow tripped system circuit breakers and knocked out electricity to 9,600 Xcel Energy customers in Evergreen and 4,600 people in Nederland, 25 miles west and 35 miles northwest of Denver, respectively, said Joe Fuentes, a spokesman for the utility. About 2,600 customers lost power in Denver.

Along I-70, the Red Cross had to open a second shelter in Idaho Springs late Friday after its first shelter there filled to capacity with more than 300 people, Rettew said late Friday.

The stranded travelers didn't all get cots, but many got snacks and most were in good spirits, he said.

"Some are trying to sleep, some are talking, some are eating, some are on the phone," Rettew said. "When this kind of thing happens, everyone just makes the best in trying circumstances."

The National Guard escorted a caravan of volunteers and supplies to the shelters after Clear Creek County declared an emergency and asked for state assistance.

Numerous traffic accidents were reported across Colorado, and State Patrol Trooper Gilbert Mares said he knew of one fatality. U.S. 40 over Berthoud Pass, the main road to the Winter Park ski resort, also was shut down Friday evening because of a pair of avalanches. A spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation said no injuries were reported.

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