Blizzard conditions blamed for at least six deaths

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 20, 2011 1:09 PM
Blizzard conditions blamed for at least six deaths

By Steve Olafson

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Blizzard conditions that shut down highways in five states on Monday were blamed for at least six deaths, the National Weather Service said on Tuesday.

The storm filled roadside hotels and motels from eastern New Mexico to Kansas on Monday and triggered nearly 100 rescue calls from the Texas Panhandle. It was moving deeper into the Great Plains on Tuesday, according to the NWS.

Four people died on Monday in a car wreck in New Mexico said Mark Wiley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

And in eastern Colorado, a prisoner and a corrections officer were killed when the driver of a van transporting nine prisoners lost control on Interstate 70, authorities said.

An additional five people also died in a single-engine plane crash in Central Texas on Monday, but the crash was not near the severe weather in the Texas Panhandle.

"Weather may have been a contributing factor," Texas Department of Public Safety Corporal Jimmy Morgan told Reuters on Tuesday. "There was some rain in this area and some lightning."

The storm system moved from New Mexico into Oklahoma on Monday, leading to blizzard conditions in New Mexico, the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, eastern Colorado and western Kansas, Wiley said. New Mexico received up to two feet of snow in the mountains, and eastern Colorado and western Kansas saw snow drifts of 4-6 feet as winds were gusting up to 50 miles per hour, he said.

Late Tuesday morning, the storm was centered over northern Oklahoma and was weakening but was expected to bring snow from Oklahoma into Kansas, Wiley said.

Travel difficulties are expected to continue during a week when holiday travelers are out on the roads.

Much of Interstate 40 remained closed on Tuesday between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Amarillo, Texas. Interstate 70 in parts of western Kansas was also closed.

In Texas County, Oklahoma, where two shelters opened Monday night, snowplows were clearing roads on Tuesday.

"We're just going to have to wait till it melts," Harold Tyson, emergency management coordinator for the county, told Reuters. "A lot of people are getting stuck."

The snowfall was welcomed by many in the drought-stricken panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma.

"We need all the moisture we can get so we're really glad," said Vicki Roberts, co-owner of the Black Mesa Bed & Breakfast in Kenton, Oklahoma, an area dominated by ranching.

(Writing by Corrie MacLaggan in Austin, Texas. Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio, Dennis Carroll in Santa Fe and Kevin Murphy in Kansas City.)