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Archive for Friday, December 22, 2006

Ice contributes to fatal wreck

December 22, 2006

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A paralyzing storm that dumped more than 2 feet of snow in Denver continued to spill into western Kansas on Thursday, causing one fatal accident and stranding hundreds of holiday travelers.

But forecasters said the storm was weakening as it crossed central Kansas and would be gone by the weekend.

"Obviously there's going to be a big cleanup effort after this, but we should be looking at improved conditions by Friday," said Scott Blair, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Goodland.

"They've had a lot of ice the past two days," said Jerry Killingsworth, fellow meteorologist. "A quarter to an inch of ice pretty much on all exposed surfaces. That changed to snow everywhere last night."

Ron Knoefel of the Kansas Highway Patrol said ice and blowing snow contributed to a fatal accident Thursday morning on U.S. 50 in Finney County, east of Holcomb.

A sport utility vehicle and a van spun out on an icy patch of road, Knoefel said. When the van came to rest on the shoulder, a woman whose car had been in the ditch walked up to check on the passengers. An eastbound tractor-trailer then slid into the vehicle, killing the woman, later identified as Monett M. Lapointe, 30, of Garden City.

The passenger in the SUV and both passengers in the van were taken to a local hospital, Knoefel said. The extent of their injuries and the identity of the victims have not been released.

"The problem is we're having snow blowing across the roadway," Knoefel said. "It's thawing but it's refreezing."

Stan Whitley, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Transportation, said westbound lanes of Interstate 70 were closed for about 250 miles from the Colorado border east to Salina. He said the closure extended more than halfway across the state because shelter was scarce for holiday travelers.

KDOT spokesman Steve Swartz said late Thursday night that the interstate was being opened in sections, starting at Salina and moving west, and would be open to the Colorado line by about 1 a.m. today.

Karen Russell at the Flying J Travel Plaza, just off I-70 in Salina, said the truck stop was nearly full by noon. Travelers continued to call asking for a place to stop, Russell said, while others said they planned to brave the back roads.

Only 30 hotel rooms were open in the northwest Kansas town of Wakeeney on Thursday morning. Whitley said KDOT expected those to be quickly snatched up.

"We just continue to move the closure a little farther east because of the blizzard conditions in Colorado," Whitley said. "That's essentially the problem."

All lanes of U.S. 36 from the Colorado border east to St. Francis remained closed, and state Highway 27 from Sharon Springs north to its junction with U.S. 36 was also closed.

With temperatures expected in the low- to mid-30s through Monday, at least a few people should be glad for the snow fall.

"Anybody that got more than an inch or two has a pretty good chance of seeing a white Christmas," Killingsworth said.

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