Thousands stranded in epic Rockies snowstorm

More than 6-feet of snow measured in some regions.

BY PJ HELLER | DENVER | March 19, 2003

A blizzard paralyzed the Denver area Wednesday, shutting down schools, businesses, government offices, highways and the Denver International Airport. Even mail service in Denver was cancelled and was limited in other parts of the metro area.

Authorities urged residents to stay off the highways except for emergency or essential trips. The Colorado National Guard was called out to help reach stranded motorists on Interstate 70.

The American Red Cross opened several shelters throughout the area and reported housing more than 700 people Tuesday and Wednesday. Most were at area schools; one was located at The United Methodist Church in Idaho Springs.

Other churches in the Denver were closed due to the weather and all events and activities were cancelled Wednesday.

As many as 4,000 travelers were reported stranded at Denver International Airport. The main terminal had to be evacuated Wednesday morning when heavy snow caused a tear in the airport's tent canopy. Airport officials were passing out cots and blankets but there weren't enough for everybody.

The blizzard, which has dumped more than 2 feet of snow on the city, was expected to be the second worst in Denver's history. Denver's worst reported snowfall was recorded in December 1913. Snow was expected to taper off by late Wednesday night.

The most snow reported in Colorado by Wednesday afternoon was nearly seven feet -- 81-inches -- at Fritz Peak iin Gilpin County, southwest of Boulder.

The storm forced the closure of the state Capitol for the first time in history. All government offices in the city and county of Denver were also closed.

Major highways, including large stretches of Interstate 70, remained closed. The western portion of I-70 could remain shut down through Thursday due to avalanche danger. Up to 7 feet of snow was forecast for the mountains.

As many as 25,000 people statewide were without electrical power, according to Xcel Energy. Of those, about 6,000 were in the Denver metro area.

At least three deaths and numerous roof collapses have been attributed to the storm.

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