Blizzard eases in the Dakotas

BISMARCK, N.D. — Major North Dakota roads closed by a blizzard that tore through the region began reopening today, but freezing rain left thousands without power to the east, authorities said. In South Dakota, stranded vehicles continued to clog a major highway.

No fatalities were reported in the early season blizzard that pounded the northern Plains on Wednesday and Thursday. But the high wind and snowfall of up to 3 feet disrupted travel, closed schools and cut off electricity to thousands in Nebraska and the Dakotas.

The storm weakened as it moved eastward overnight and the worst of the snowfall appeared to be over today.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol said it reopened Interstate 94 west of Bismarck about 9:30 a.m. Other major roads were to reopen later.

In northeastern North Dakota, though, freezing rain and wind took down power lines serving thousands of customers, the Nodak Rural Electric Cooperative said.

In north-central North Dakota, more than a foot of snow fell near the small town of Voltaire.

"We haven't had one like this one for years," said Voltaire retiree Ursula Wunderlich, who lives with her husband, Donald, in a home surrounded by 50-foot spruce and pine trees.

"Those branches are loaded with snow, and if they break, they could really cause some whoop-de-doo around here," she said.

Wunderlich's husband was digging out snowdrifts in front of an old barn to bring food to the couple's five cats.

In South Dakota, hardest hit by the blizzard on Thursday, authorities were struggling against the aftermath.

The Highway Patrol worked through the night to rescue people stranded in their vehicles on snow-clogged highways in the western part of the state. Most were smart and stayed in their cars. Many had cell phones, Tom Dravland, state Department of Public Safety secretary, said today.

About 300 people had been helped by this morning, authorities told reporters. But Interstate 90 remained clogged with 30 to 50 stuck, disabled or jackknifed semis, along with about 200 cars and other vehicles.

"All of those vehicles are going to have to be moved before we can get plows out there," Dravland said. "When it comes to moving semis, it's a different story than moving motor vehicles. ... it's going to take some time."

The storm dropped at least 45 inches of snow near Deadwood, S.D., in the Black Hills. In southwestern South Dakota, 20-foot snowdrifts were reported on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

In both Dakotas, dozens of schools, agencies, businesses and attractions, including Mount Rushmore National Memorial, had to close.

The storm also disrupted travel and electrical service for a time in Nebraska. About 4,500 customers were without power at the height of the storm, but that number was below 200 by this morning, said Mark Becker, a spokesman for Nebraska Public Power District.

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