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Archive for Saturday, March 22, 2003

Coloradans returning to work, school after record blizzard

March 22, 2003

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— Shovels scraping sidewalks, the trickle of snow melting off roofs, and the sound of footsteps through slush could be heard across the city Friday as it recovered from Colorado's worst blizzard in 90 years.

At the airport, thousands stood in line for coveted boarding passes for crowded planes that were leaving every minute.

The storm, which began Tuesday, dropped up to 8 1/2 feet of snow over a swath of nearly 500 miles in Colorado and southern Wyoming.

At least six people died, including a skier who was caught Thursday in an avalanche near Keystone.

Garbage trucks hauled away mounds of snow and broken tree limbs on Friday. Businesses and schools reopened, but many residents were forced to remain home because streets packed with drifts made passage nearly impossible.

About 1,500 travelers spent the night at the airport, and hundreds more arrived Friday in hopes of catching flights, airport spokeswoman Sally Covington said.

"We reached the limits of our technology at about midnight Tuesday," said Amy Bourgeron, assistant airport manager. "We did everything we possibly could to keep the airport opened and to help keep passengers comfortable, but how do you prepare for the storm of the century?"

Officials expected material to arrive today to temporarily repair the airport's tent-like roof, which tore with the weight of the snow.

The heavy, wet snow also caved in roofs and awnings at a Denver nightclub and a community center in the mountain town of Nederland. The Denver Fire Department inspected 200 structural collapses reported at homes and businesses.

Most roadways reopened, including Interstate 70 from Denver west to Frisco in the mountains. The 60-mile stretch was closed because of avalanche danger, but all lanes in both directions were reopened by Friday morning.

Agricultural officials, meanwhile, celebrated the massive blizzard for a region entering its fourth year of drought.

The snowpack, which provides most of Colorado's water when it melts and runs into streams, rivers and dams, grew to 104 percent of the 30-year average in the South Platte River basin, up from 78 percent at the start of the week. The basin supplies water to Denver and many of the drought-battered farmers and ranchers in eastern Colorado.

"This is a billion-dollar snowfall," Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Don Ament said

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