A snowstorm whipping drifts up to 14 feet high stranded hundreds of motorists as it roared across the Plains yesterday, while tornadoes and rain pounded parts of the South and killed at least five people.
At least 27 deaths have been blamed on bad weather this week, while the snowstorm moving east caused an estimated $72 million in damage to southern California and Mexico.
Schools, offices, airports and highways, including a 400-mile stretch of Interstate 70 in Kansas and Colorado, were shut by the snow.
"Most of the doors of the truck stop are drifted up. It's a pretty good one," said trucker Roger Ealum of LaSalle, Colo., who was snowbound at Limon, Colo., where visibility was near zero.
Meanwhile, tornadoes roared through western Tennessee, killing at least five people, injuring dozens of others and causing widespread damage. Heaviest hit was the Moscow, Tenn., area, about 20 miles east of Memphis, where three died.
The tornado, which struck just after noon, "followed a 22-mile path which was as wide as three-quarters of a mile at some places," said Chip Ragon of the county Emergency Management Agency. As many as 40 houses were destroyed or heavily damaged in one area, he said.
A twister cut a 10-mile swath through northern Alabama, near Cullman, late in the afternoon, injuring 26 people, one seriously.
Damage appeared to be considerable, said Donald Steele, emergency management director for Cullman County.
Earlier, tornadoes caused damage and injured at least one person in northern Mississippi, and funnel clouds were sighted over Louisiana.
High winds badly damaged about 30 houses and injured seven people in Arkansas' Ashley County, said police in Crossett.
Tornado warnings and watches were posted for sections of Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and Tennessee.
Thirty people were evacuated as flooding hit the same section of West Memphis, Ark., that was inundated on Christmas.
Preliminary estimates of damage in southern California and Mexico were about $65 million from huge waves that smashed restaurants, beach houses and piers, sheared off part of a hotel and wrecked boats and cars parked near the beach.
Wind gusting to 56 mph whipped snow across the Plains and piled it in road-blocking drifts from Colorado across Nebraska and Kansas and a corner of Wyoming to South Dakota, where police closed 120 miles of I-90 west of Sioux Falls and about 80 miles of Interstate 29 north of Sioux Falls. Drifts 14 feet high were reported near Kimball, Neb.
The Kansas Highway Patrol said the blowing snow cut visibility to near zero, closing I-70 from Salina to the Colorado state line. Gusts to 56 mph sent wind chills diving as low as 25 below zero over northwest Kansas by sundown.
Ten-foot drifts shut down schools, businesses and major highways across northeastern Colorado, and drifts up to 6 feet made roads impassable in parts of Nebraska, where Mullen got 20 inches of snow. An accumulation of 16 inches of snow clogged roads in southeastern and south-central South Dakota.
The east-west runways at Denver's Stapleton airport were closed by strong crosswinds, cutting departures from the usual 72 per hour to 30, spokesman Richard Boulware said.