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Record Breaking Snowstorm


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Denver, CO (March. 20, 2003) AP — Workers trickled back to offices and stores through still-snowy streets and planes began flying again Thursday after Colorado’s worst blizzard in 90 years unloaded up to 7 feet of snow there and in Wyoming.

The storm that began Tuesday paralyzed a swath of nearly 500 miles, home to more than 3.5 million people. At least three people died.

As the storm headed toward Kansas, business in Colorado and Wyoming began a tentative return toward normal.

Colorado government workers were told to come in if they could, and Wyoming state offices in Cheyenne were to reopen at midday. Post offices reopened, and some mail delivery resumed.

But recovery wasn’t instant from the storm that dumped nearly 2 1/2 feet of snow in Denver and far more in many suburbs.

Most schools remained closed, and hundreds of thousands of residents who live off the plowed main streets remained snowbound even as skies went from constant snow to slate gray. Denver city offices remained shut.

It felt like a Monday to Julie Rukavino, who took an express bus into Denver from suburban Northglenn for the first time in two days. But she was happy to return to her accounting job in an environmental consulting firm.

“After a while, cabin fever starts to set in,” she said while waiting for a shuttle bus to take her to the other end of downtown.

Plows worked feverishly at Denver International Airport, one of the nation’s busiest, where an estimated 3,700 people were stranded after it closed early Wednesday.

The first two planes took off shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday, after one runway was cleared, and more planes were lined up to go, said airport spokesman Chuck Cannon. Officials hoped to clear a second runway by 2 p.m., he said.

United Airlines, the airport’s dominant carrier, expected its first arrival at 2 p.m., said airline spokesman Jeff Green. The carrier had 74 planes stuck on the ground.

“If we can start getting planes open later this afternoon, we’ll be back to normal tomorrow afternoon,” Green said.

Ben and Brenda Ewart of Island Village, Texas, had been camping at the airport since Tuesday morning with children Melissa, 4, and Kevin, 6.

They’ve bathed in sinks. They waited three hours Wednesday for a McDonald’s hamburger, and two hours to use a pay phone. They’ve gone outside to build a snowman, and on Thursday, as they hoped to finally start their ski vacation in Steamboat Springs, the children had resorted to playing with pennies and cards on the terminal floor.

“We usually travel with a bunch of little toys, but they’ve sort of gone through all that,” said Brenda Ewart, a family practice doctor. “We’re so ready to get out of here.”

Colorado Springs Municipal Airport, about 60 miles to the southeast, received only about 2 inches of snow and remained open. The men’s basketball teams from the University of Vermont and University of Colorado flew from there to reach their NCAA tournament appearances in other states.

Interstate 70 was reopened Thursday from Denver to the Kansas line, but another 56-mile stretch of it remained closed in the mountains west of Denver. I-25 was back in service from Wellington north to Cheyenne, but parts of it and I-80 were still off limits in Wyoming, isolating some communities.

Thousands of travelers had spent the last two days stuck in motels, truck stops and school gyms, waiting for the interstates to open.

In Highlands Ranch, a bedroom community 15 miles south of Denver, Mark Wehrle finally got his Jeep Cherokee out of the driveway, only to meet the next obstacle. No snowplows have made it through his neighborhood.

“I’m shoveling for an hour, then resting for an hour,” said Wehrle. “I’m using muscles I haven’t used for years.”

Rollinsville, Colo., perched at 9,000 feet above sea level in the foothills northwest of Denver, got 7 feet, 3 1/2 inches.

The east Denver suburb of Aurora recorded 40 inches of snow. Boulder got 22.5 inches.

In Wyoming, Cheyenne saw more than 18 inches and Gillette got 13. A mountain south of Casper got up to 5 feet.

The snow was blamed for at least one traffic death in Colorado and two in Wyoming. In the Denver area, a snowmobiler on his way to help stranded neighbors was killed in a collision with a pickup.

The heavy snow caused more than 110 roofs to collapse in Denver and Boulder. A man’s leg was broken when part of his apartment collapsed after the roof of the nightclub next door collapsed.

The snow was blamed for a rip in the tent-like fabric roof of Denver International Airport’s main terminal. The building was evacuated until officials concluded it was safe.

An avalanche closed the road to the Eldora ski area outside Boulder, stranding about 250 skiers and employees, who spent their second night Wednesday sleeping on floors.

Avalanche danger kept them from enjoying the new snow. “It was torture looking at the slopes all day, but they were worried about safety,” 17-year-old switchboard operator Kim Varela said Wednesday night.

Both states needed the moisture after three years of drought. The National Weather Service said every 10 inches of snow from the storm was delivering about an inch of water.

Even as they worked to clear the snow, officials worried about the storm’s follow-up punch: flooding expected when the nearly 30-inch mantle of heavy, wet snow began to melt.

Denver’s temperature was expected to reach 40 on Thursday and 50 by Saturday, and temperatures in southeastern Wyoming were forecast to reach the upper 30s Thursday and the upper 50s this weekend.

Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press