Several Rocky Mountain-area communities were still cut off yesterday as a storm that buried Denver under three feet of snow moved on, leaving behind closed roads and airports, thousands of stranded travelers and at least two fatalities.
"It's just terrible," said police Sgt. Mike Baker in Raton, N.M., on the Colorado border, as gale-force winds pushed snowdrifts as high as car rooftops. "I don't remember a storm this bad."
A state of emergency was declared in the Denver area, where Stapleton International Airport closed Friday and stayed closed most of yesterday because of deep snow. About 2,000 stranded travelers had spent the night at the airport -- on lobby couches and in heated planes.
A spokesman for Stapleton airport, one of the 10 busiest in the world, said the travel plans of up to 75,000 people had been disrupted by the snowstorm.
Despite resumption of airport operations about 7 p.m. yesterday, many airlines canceled all flights at least until Sunday.
The blizzard produced 40-mph winds that whipped snow into drifts eight feet high in Denver. The city's daily newspapers suspended publication, saying delivery was impossible.
"Thousands of stranded motorists have been picked up," said Capt. John Callahan of the Colorado State Patrol.
A man who apparently walked away from his crippled car during the storm was found frozen to death yesterday in a field near Bennett, east of Denver, police said.
Officials said a 58-year-old woman was found frozen to death yesterday morning near her family's farm home about 65 miles north of Denver.
A few cases of hypothermia and frostbite were reported among 300 motorists stranded at a public school in Deer Trail, about 50 miles southwest of Denver on Interstate 70. Many of the motorists, who spent Christmas Eve singing carols in the gymnasium, were unable to dig out their cars and were told to prepare themselves for another night in the school.
Every Colorado highway east of the Continental Divide was closed.
"We're unable to move through the city," said Denver paramedic dispatcher Tom Chaddic. "We've got volunteers in Broncos, Blazers and pickup trucks transporting most of our patients."
"It's unbelievable," said Jim Firesteine, National Guardsman from Aurora, Colo., who spent more than 30 continuous hours rescuing stranded motorists and taking pregnant women to Denver General Hospital.
"We've had about eight OBs women in labor , one of whom didn't get to the hospital and had her baby at home," he said. "We've had exposure cases, stranded people, everything."
The storm dumped 33 inches of snow in Wheatridge, Colo., and 24 inches on the Denver airport in 24 hours -- making it the city's heaviest one-day accumulation, surpassing the 23 inches that fell on April 22, 1885, the National Weather Service reported.
In the lower Mississippi Valley yesterday, heavy rain and thunderstorms gradually decreased after spawning at least 21 tornadoes in Arkansas and 10 in Missouri on Friday. The round of tornadoes in those two states and Oklahoma caused about $10.6 million in damage.
Fears of flooding remained as rivers rose from persistent rain. In Jackson, Miss., about three inches of rain had fallen by mid-afternoon and authorities evacuated one neighborhood.
In Minneapolis, 2 1/2 inches of rain fell in the 24 hours ending at 7 a.m. EST yesterday, more than the city has ever recorded for the month of December, the National Weather Service said.
Unseasonably warm temperatures melted hopes for snow in many Midwestern cities. Chicago had its warmest Christmas on record, with yesterday's 58 degrees breaking the 56-degree mark set in 1935. In New York City, the temperature hit 64 degrees at 4:15 p.m., matching a record high set on Christmas Day in 1889.