Mon, Jan 10, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Dozens rescued after snow storms hit western US

AP , LOS ANGELES

A snowbound Union Pacific freight train receives assistance in Truckee, California, as snow storms hit the Sierra Nevada range, Saturday.

PHOTO: AP

About 180 people, including some who spent more than 12 hours stuck in deep snow in the San Bernardino Mountains, were rescued as the latest in a series of storms struck California. The storms quickly moved eastward, closing all three major highways over the Sierra Nevada.

Up to 3m was expected over the weekend at the Sierra's higher elevations, according to the National Weather Service.

Snow piled up 0.9m to 1.2m deep Saturday along a 24km stretch of highway between the Snow Valley ski resort and Big Bear dam, said Tracey Martinez, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County fire department.

Rescue crews used tracked vehicles to pick up the snowbound motorists in the mountains about 145km east of Los Angeles. Many of the vehicles remained abandoned while the roads were being cleared of snow.

"People were panicking and calling 911 on their cell phones," Martinez said. "Most of them are elated to be out of there. But some continued on and said they were going skiing."

No serious injuries were reported.

Up to 38cm of snow was reported in parts of Colorado's San Juan Mountains, as well, adding to the 48cm dumped earlier this week by storms. The new snow delighted skiers, but made driving treacherous, with winds gusting near 100kph on snow-packed, icy roads above 2,400m elevation.

In the east, heavy rain and snow that fell earlier in the week caused flooding along the Ohio River that was chasing some residents out of their homes in communities in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. Meteorologists predicted the river would reach its highest level in eight years at Louisville, Kentucky. The stormy weather had caused widespread power outages in parts of Ohio, and utilities said about 100,000 homes and businesses remained without electricity on Saturday.

Some neighborhoods below California's San Bernardino Mountains recorded more than 1.25cm of rain every hour, and homeowners rushed to pile sandbags.

"I used to love the rain," said Dallas Branscone of San Bernardino County's Devore area. "Now, I dread all these storms."

Elsewhere in California, up to 1.35m of snow fell overnight in the Sierra Nevada around Lake Tahoe, ski areas reported Saturday. That came on top of as much as 2.7m of snow in the Sierra and 1.2m in Reno on Dec. 30.

Interstate 80, which crosses the Sierra and links Sacramento, California, to the Reno-Tahoe, Nevada, area, closed Saturday as did two other major Sierra highways -- US 50 over Echo Summit and Highway 88 over Carson Pass.

The storm also delayed Amtrak rail passengers over the Sierra for up to eight hours and caused dozens of cancellations and delays at Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

The wild weather knocked out power for thousands of homes and businesses and blocked mountain roads. One person died in a sailboat smashed by wind and waves, two resort workers in the Sierra were found dead in a snow-covered car and two other people were killed in a car accident on slippery roads in Glendale.

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