Image: Kansas resident without power
Larry W. Smith  /  AP
National Guard member Steven McBryde, right, hands Tabetha Hawk, who has been without power for five days, a case of water in Haskell County near Sublette, Kan., on Wednesday.
updated 1/3/2007 2:11:35 PM ET 2007-01-03T19:11:35

Volunteers on snowmobiles joined a National Guard airlift to feed thousands of snowbound cattle Wednesday, fanning out across eastern Colorado in search of animals stranded by back-to-back holiday blizzards.

Eight Guard helicopters and a C-130 cargo plane were dispatched Wednesday in the campaign to save the livestock herds that are vital to the region’s economy.

Soldiers delivered about 500 bales of hay Tuesday to cattle unable to get through the snow to grass and water, Maj. Gen. Mason Whitney said.

“You can tell immediately where they are,” Whitney said. “You’ll see a bunch of dark spots clustered together in a sea of white.”

Volunteer snowmobile search-and-rescue groups from elsewhere in the state had joined the campaign, said Dan Hatlestad, spokesman in an interagency operations center.

The latest snowstorm struck last week, blowing snow into drifts 10 feet deep and more in southeastern Colorado, stranding hundreds of travelers in their cars over the New Year’s weekend and trapping cattle. Drifts were reported as high as 15 feet in western Kansas. In 1997, a similar storm killed 30,000 cattle in Colorado.

Electricity down, deaths reported
Utilities in sections of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado worked around the clock to restore electricity to tens of thousands of homes and businesses, but utility officials warned it could take weeks to restore electricity in some areas.

The storm also was blamed for at least 13 deaths.

Main highways and roads across the rural region were open Wednesday and the Guard believes all snowbound motorists had been rescued, Whitney said.

Getting food to stranded cattle is key to protecting the region’s economic lifeblood, said agricultural extension agent Leonard Pruett. Up to $1.8 billion worth of cattle are on the line, most of them breeding cows that will produce next year’s crop of beef cattle.

National Guard helicopters also dropped military Meals Ready to Eat rations outside remote houses, where the nearest neighbor might be miles away. The guard also used Humvees and snowmobiles to ferry food, water and medicine to people in need, reaching at least 280 rural Colorado homes Tuesday.

“It’s the middle of nowhere. You lose the power, you might as well be in 1885,” said Sgt. 1st Class Steve Segin. “There’s no cell phone, no lights, no contact.”

National Guard troops and police also went door to door in the Oklahoma Panhandle and western Kansas to check on people who had been without power for several days. People who might have medical problems were a priority, said Oklahoma National Guard Col. Pat Scully.

Ice was even more of a problem in some areas than the deep snow.

“Hardly anybody got any snow,” said Patrick Keough, whose family crowded into a motel at Kearney, Neb., because their home a dozen miles east of town had no electricity. “It’s all just ice. Even the gravel roads are a sheet of ice, because the gravel is below the level of the ice. I’ve never seen that in my life.”

Three inches of ice
Utility poles were snapped off for miles around, Keough said, and he’d been told not to expect any power for at least three weeks.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman said after flying over his state Tuesday that he saw damage “more massive and more extensive than any of us imagined,” including ice 3 inches thick on trees in some areas.

Eleven traffic deaths were blamed on the latest storm in Colorado, Texas, Nebraska and Minnesota. A tornado spun off by the same weather system killed one person in Texas, and one man died in Kansas when he fell down a stairway while tending a generator running in an enclosed space.

At least 21,000 customers in western Kansas were without power, as were an estimated 15,000 customers in Nebraska and more than 6,000 in Colorado and Oklahoma. Nebraska state officials estimated that the storm caused tens of millions of dollars in damage to utilities’ power lines and other equipment.

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