Crews scrambled to reach utility poles along roads choked by huge snow drifts Tuesday, slowly restoring electricity to thousands left in the dark by the Plains’ first blizzard of the season.
Major roads and interstates were reopened a day after the storm walloped the region. Five deaths were blamed on slippery roads in Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. A sixth person was killed by a tornado spun off by the huge storm system in Arkansas.
Remnants of the system headed over the upper Great Lakes on Tuesday after the storm dumped snow as far south as the Texas Panhandle. As much as 20 inches fell at Kennebec, S.D., while Chamberlain, S.D., was smothered by drifts up to 8 feet high.
Utility officials estimated that 40,000 customers were blacked out across eastern South Dakota on Tuesday, and many communities in North Dakota had no electricity. Minnesota and Nebraska also had scattered outages.
North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven declared a snow emergency for the southeast part of the state to get federal help to fix damage. The National Guard from North Dakota and Minnesota also were helping in areas without power.
South Dakota was looking to buy, rent or borrow larger portable generators to be used to recharge batteries at cell phone towers and to run pumps to rebuild pressure in water pipelines that serve rural customers, said Gov. Mike Rounds.
Winds gusting to 70 mph on Monday drove the snow into hard, deep drifts.
“In some cases, it’s just brute force and large equipment to get through some of this,” he said.
Emergency shelters were opened in the Dakotas and Minnesota for people who lost power when freezing rain built up a layer of ice that pulled down power lines and poles.
Many secondary roads still were blocked by electric transmission lines sagging under the weight of ice, Rounds said. “Across eastern South Dakota there are a minimum of 8,000 poles that are down.”
About 500 power poles were down in one part of southeast North Dakota.
“I’ve been here 25 years and I’ve never seen anything like this — not even close,” said Craig Rysavy, with Dakota Valley Electric in Milnor, N.D.
The National Weather Service also confirmed the same system spawned at least four tornadoes that touched down in Arkansas on Sunday.