BLIZZARD 2021: Rollover crash in Aurora, stuck fire engines, RTD halted and dozens of stranded motorists

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DENVER | A powerful late winter snowstorm walloped Aurora and the metro area Sunday, leaving a city of stuck motorists, abandoned cars, snow-choked roads, closed schools, businesses and government offices.

Much of Aurora measured about 2 feet of snow. Nearly 3 feet of snow was unofficially reported in the farthest southeast reaches of Aurora Sunday night. Denver International Airport recorded 27.1 inches as of midnight.

Sunday at about 8 p.m., about  2 feet of accumulated snow blanketed the Aurora area, wreaking havoc with motorists who ignored police pleas and warnings not to try and brave blizzard conditions and deep drifts, especially near the E-470 corridor.

Police said at about 3:30 p.m. they were receiving so many calls for stuck motorists that they were telling callers to abandon their cars and seek shelter, and that they would only respond to calls for trapped motorists. At one point, police said there were about 50 pending requests for rescue.

Police used a tactical rescue vehicle to help free stuck fire engines and retrieve motorists trapped in their cars. As of Monday at 7:30 a.m., police said they were still working to rescue motorists stuck in their cars.

At about 11 p.m. one motorists on the eastern part of the city pleaded with police via Twitter to come get her and seven other people inside a stuck SUV near E-470.

“Please we are running out of gas and it’s freezing in the car!,” the motorist said in a tweet. “We are on E56th Avenue.”

Near midnight, police were so overwhelmed with pleas for help they reach out to the National Guard, who told APD they were sending in a snowcat.

“We still have reports of numerous motorists stranded in their vehicles,” police said in a tweet. Police and fire rescuers “are working as quickly and safely as possible get to everyone. These efforts may go well into the late night.”

One man tweeted to police and Denver TV reporters that he was among about 20 cars stranded in the snow along East 56th Avenue between Jackson Gap Street and E-470.

“We have been here since around 2:30 PM,”  Josh Pagliaro said in a tweet. “Our flight got cancelled at the last minute and we rented a car to get to a hotel 4 miles from the Denver airport.”

Late into the night, he tweeted out he’d been trapped in his car for 9 hours.

Aurora police said in a tweet they were working to rescue the stranded motorists.

 

“Since we are receiving a high volume of calls from people who are stranded in their vehicles, APD will only respond to calls where people are unable to find shelter in their immediate area,” police said in a tweet.

At about 4 p.m., City Manager Jim Twombly declared a state of emergency, allowing the city to tow away stuck and abandoned vehicles.

Here’s the status of the storm as of Monday morning:

• East 56th Avenue is closed at Piccadilly Street

• I-70 is closed at Tower Road

• Many areas on the north and east parts of the city are impassible

• RTD has suspended all train and bus services, except for A-line service to the airport, but runs are unscheduled.

• All Arapahoe and Adams county courts and services are closed.

• All state offices and services are closed.

• All Cherry Creek, APS and Denver classes and programs are closed, including day care in Cherry Creek schools.

• All Aurora city classes, services and facilities are closed.

• The state legislature is closed today.

• Aurora Mental Health Center is offering only virtual services on Monday. All virtual appointments are still scheduled, according to Aurora Mental Health Center officials. In-person appointments can be rescheduled or held virtually.

Sunday milestones

• At about noon, an Aurora Fire and Rescue engine got stuck and police special equipment were able to free it, according to Aurora police.

• At about 1 p.m., police closed southbound Peoria Street at Colfax after a semi-tractor trailer became stuck in the snow there.”

• Police were called to a rollover crash late Saturday at East Yale Avenue and South Chambers Road. A driver turning left onto westbound Yale was struck by a car southbound on Chambers, police said. The driver and a child passenger in one of the vehicles were transported to a nearby hospital for treatment of minor injuries, according to police.

• Saturday night, police were looking for someone riding a bike in the snow on the right shoulder of Interstate 225 near East Sixth Avenue. “This is NOT a very good idea due to this evenings poor road conditions,” police said in a tweet. “We hope the rider finds their way safely off the interstate.” The bike rider was never spotted by police.

• Mile High Behavioral Healthcare, which runs a local network of homeless shelters, said in a text alert that the Aurora Day Resource Center will be expanded into an overnight shelter during the storm. The ADRC is located at 13387 E 19th Place 

• Mile High also runs the city’s “Emergency Shelter,” which is in a warehouse space at 3293 Oakland St. The network told homeless residents in the text alert that its street outreach team will also continue to support people living in tents and campers during the storm.

 

Storm hit states across the region

The National Weather Service in Wyoming called it a “historic and crippling” winter storm that would cause extremely dangerous to impossible travel conditions through at least early Monday.

Major roads southeast of a line that crosses diagonally from the southwest corner of Wyoming to its northeast corner were closed Sunday, including roads in and out of Cheyenne and Casper.

Over 2 feet  of snow had fallen just outside Cheyenne by 9:30 a.m. Saturday, the weather service reported, while other areas around the city had seen 16 to 19 inches. A SNOTEL site at Windy Peak in the Laramie Range reported 52 inches of snow in a 24-hour period ending Sunday morning, the weather service said.

A person who answered the phone at the Love’s Travel Stop in Cheyenne, but declined to give his name, said 98 trucks were stranded there. They were taking fuel out a can at a time to fill up generators on the trucks to keep their refrigerators or freezers running, he said.

Interstate 80 was closed across southern Wyoming and into the Nebraska panhandle, where a foot  of snow was reported just north of Kimball, Nebraska. Interstate 25 was closed north from Fort Collins, Colorado, to its end at Buffalo, Wyoming.

At Denver International Airport, the runways were closed just before noon Sunday due to blowing snow and poor visibilities. “Many flights have already been canceled so the runway closures have minimal impacts,” airport officials said in social media posts. A foot of snow fell at DIA on Saturday and another foot was expected Sunday.

The Northern Colorado Regional Airport that serves the Fort Collins and Loveland areas was closed Sunday morning after also receiving a foot of snow, according to the airport’s social media accounts.

An avalanche warning was in effect Sunday for the Rocky Mountains west of Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs where “intense snowfall will cause large and destructive avalanches,” Colorado Avalanche Center said. The center warned that avalanches could happen in unusual locations and recommended against traveling in the backcountry.

An avalanche blocked Colorado Highway 14 in north-central Colorado on Sunday, the Department of Transportation said.

Nearly 32,000 Excel Energy customers were without power Sunday in north-central Colorado, while smaller outages were reported in the same area by the Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association

Rocky Mountain Power in Wyoming has reported several outages. At one point overnight, service was interrupted to nearly 2,600 customers in Casper and Glenrock and 2,800 customers in Lander. Just under 1,000 people were without power in the Casper area on Sunday.

The power company expects more service interruptions as the storm continues.

“Heavy snow and drifting conditions from wind is expected to make travel and repair work increasingly difficult today,” Curt Mansfield, vice president of operations for Rocky Mountain Power said in a statement Sunday.

 

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