Plains Digging Out From Storm

Adams County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Ackles blocks traffic from accessing Burlington Avenue at 16th Street due to slippery road conditions and poor visibility in Hastings, Neb., Monday, Nov. 28, 2005. Vehicles were having problems driving north over the overpass that morning.
Major highways are gradually reopening in the Plains, but it could be days before some people get their electricity restored.

The region is digging out from the first blizzard of the season, with highways closed by blowing, drifting snow and thousands of people without electricity as temperatures hit the low teens.

Utility officials estimate 50,000 customers are without power across eastern South Dakota, and the governor says the lights might not be back on for a few days.

The storm was heading toward the Great Lakes on Tuesday after dumping snow as far south as the Texas Panhandle. As much as 20 inches of snow fell at Kennebec, S.D., while Chamberlain, S.D., was choked by drifts up to 8 feet high.

As ferocious as the storm was, it was not a record breaker – not in terms of the amount of snow it dropped or even the strength of the 70-mph winds, reports CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan. But what did surprise forecasters was the width of this storm – it stretched nearly the entire length of the country.

Five deaths were blamed on slippery roads in Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. A sixth person was killed when a tornado hurled a car in Arkansas.

Travelers trying to get home after Thanksgiving were stranded across the Plains.

"A lot of restaurants stayed open all night to give people a warm place to stay," reports Matt Mauro of CBS affiliate KWCH-TV from Russell, Kansas.

"Few people can remember a blizzard fierce enough to shut down so many Interstate highways in so many states — all at once," reports Cowan.

"They're pretty bad, they're really vicious. The ice is really thick with fresh snow on top. You can barely see. The visibility is horrible," said stranded motorist Nikki Wagner.

The storm closed parts of I-70 in Kansas, I-80 in Nebraska, I-90 in South Dakota and I-94 in Minnesota, among others.

There is good news for travelers, however. About 200 miles of Interstate 80 reopened in central Nebraska. And about a 100-mile stretch of I-94 reopened across eastern North Dakota.

More than 400 miles of eastbound Interstate 70 was closed, from Denver to Salina, Kan., but reopened Tuesday morning. Westbound lanes had remained open in most areas.

KWCH's Mauro reports that the looks on the faces of truckers and others, as they left Russell, Kansas, for their homes "were just ecstatic ... a lot of them spent two nights here, or two nights in their cars and trucks, and they're just happy to get home."