Deadly snowstorm closes roads in five states

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- Fierce winds and snow that caused fatal road accidents and shuttered highways in five states, crawled deeper into the Great Plains early Tuesday, with forecasters warning that pre-holiday travel would be difficult if not impossible across the region.

Hotels were filling up quickly along major roadways from eastern New Mexico to Kansas, and nearly 100 rescue calls came in from motorists in the Texas Panhandle as blizzard conditions forced closed part of Interstate 40, a major east-west route, Monday night.

About 10 inches of snow had fallen in western Kansas before dawn Tuesday and several more inches along with strong wind gusts were expected, National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Russell said.

"We're talking about whiteout conditions," he said.

Heather Haltli, 29, and her husband were traveling from their home at Hill Air Force Base in Utah to attend a family funeral in Abilene, Texas, but the storm slowed them down so badly that they had to take refuge at the Comfort Inn in Garden City, Kan.

"We've been traveling about 20 miles per hour all the way from Denver," Haltli said Tuesday. She said they had passed up to 15 wrecks including rollovers, upside down cars and jackknifed trucks as they drove through Colorado.

"I don't think we'll be able to make the funeral, but we'll keep going," she said.

Colorado Highway Patrol trooper Nate Reid said the freezing rain and fog came in so fast on Monday that it caught a lot of drivers unaware.

"I can't even count how many rollovers we had," Reid said.
 
The storm was blamed for at least six deaths Monday, authorities said. Four people were killed when their vehicle collided with a pickup truck in part of eastern New Mexico where blizzard-like conditions are rare, and a prison guard and inmate died when a prison van crashed along an icy roadway in eastern Colorado.

 
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Clausing reported from Albuquerque, N.M. Associated Press writers Terry Wallace in Dallas; Juan Carlos Llorca in El Paso, Texas; Maria Fisher in Kansas City, Mo.; and Tim Talley in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

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