DIA reopens, Aurora cleans up but schools still closed as spring blizzard moves on

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AURORA | Aurora and much of the metro area clobbered by high winds and heavy snows all-day Wednesday lurched back to a more normal weekday pace Thursday as acres of snow got pushed aside to make room for work and business.

Both Aurora Public Schools and Cherry Creek schools closed for a second day, citing safety concerns for students, who would have to navigate more than two feet of heavy, wet snow that fell yesterday across Aurora.

Official total snowfall for Aurora was pegged at 20 inches, according to national weather records, but many residents on the eastern side of the city reported significantly more than that with drifts higher than 3 feet in some areas.

Early Thursday, there were still dozens and dozens of cars stuck, stalled or just abandoned in, on  and along roads yesterday while gust of more than 50 mph barraged commuters. I-70 was closed and reopened numerous times.

As of 7 a.m., I-70 between Airpark Road in Aurora and Burlington was closed in both directions.

Early in the day, a jack-knifed semi-trailer truck spilled about 150 gallons of fuel while blocking I-70 at Tower Road. The fuel spill and obstruction shut down the interstate and caused traffic jams on nearby roads that persisted until late last night.

Stalled and stuck cars caused motorists to drive around each other or even drove the wrong way up streets trying to keep from getting stuck themselves.  Even city equipment, including a snow plow, got stuck in the heavy snow during the day.

Police and fire officials had not tabulated a list of injuries as of early Thursday, but ambulances struggled to reach numbers people injured in a long list of car crashes caused by the weather. At one point, frustrated ambulance drivers just left a stuck ambulance in the snow on a on-ramp to I-225 because it was hopelessly wedged between an RTD bus and other vehicles.

Police were frustrated all day by not being able to maneuver through stuck and stalled cars to get to accident scenes as commuters refused to heed requests to stay off the streets.

Large parts of the city were without power for hours after heavy snow dropped power lines, also causing havoc as traffic signals malfunctioned.

DIA opened late Wednesday after turning back planes and eventually closing. Snow blown by gusts up to around 50 mph made it unsafe for planes to land or take off at Denver International Airport, leading officials to close it around midday. The airport reopened about seven hours later.

Airport spokesman Heath Montgomery says two of the six runways are open, and the airport will be fully operational by Thursday morning.

More than 1,300 of Wednesday’s 1,500 scheduled flights were canceled, he said.

The closure came hours after long flight delays caused by power outages at the airport’s fuel depot and deicing supply and the cancellation of about a third of the airport’s daily flights.

The last time a blizzard closed the airport was in 2006, for two days.

The road through Aurora and to the airport was also impassable for much of the day because of blowing snow. The road reopened Wednesday afternoon, allowing passengers to escape to town, airport spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said.

The wind and the heavy, wet snow typical for a spring storm weighed down power lines and snapped them into one another, causing many outages and flickering lights in Aurora and the surrounding area.

Highway officials issued a rare order for drivers to stay off interstates in the Denver area unless they have chains, snow tires or four-wheel drive vehicles to avoid causing accidents. Normally, that’s a warning issued for drivers in the mountains.

Even politics has to take a snow day in Wyoming as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and former President Bill Clinton both canceled planned campaign events in the state.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.