CROOKSTON, MINN., DEC. 31 -- A snowstorm cut visibility to near zero on highways in northwestern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota, sending cars into ditches and stranding dozens of motorists for hours until National Guardsmen could rescue them today.

"That area of the Red River valley is flat as a pancake and there's nothing to hold back the wind but a few barbed wire fences," Bill Togstad of the National Weather Service said. The storm began late Wednesday and ended early today. Snowbound motorists were put up for the night in hotels, an armory, a priory and a liquor store.

On the North Dakota side of the valley, one motorist slid into a ditch after apparently suffering a fatal heart attack, authorities said.

No other injuries were reported in the storm, although authorities said that more than 100 vehicles had skidded off roadways into ditches.

Wind gusted between 30 mph and 40 mph, whipping up snow already on the ground and the 2 inches that fell Wednesday night, said Togstad. The wind combined with subzero temperatures to make it feel like 40 to 60 degrees below zero, he said.

The National Guard rescued about 17 motorists stranded along U.S. 2 between Crookston and East Grand Forks, Minn., said Lt. Col. Dave Pearson.