Thousands of western Kansas residents began the new year without power Monday, as the region started digging out from a storm that left up to 32 inches in some areas.
Three Civil Air Patrol planes and a Kansas Highway Patrol plane and helicopters flew over northwest Kansas Monday to search for any stranded drivers. They concentrated on areas between Interstate 70 and U.S. 50 that had the most snow, said Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for Kansas Emergency Management.
Most of the dozens of highways that had been closed when the storm blew through on Thursday and Friday were reopened Monday, including a 250-mile stretch of Interstate 70. Only one death had been reported.
Ron Kaufman, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Transportation, said sunshine and slightly warmer temperatures in the region Monday were helping efforts to open the roads, with only sections of state routes 25, 27 and 96 and U.S. 160 and 40 west of Leoti still closed.
"We're chipping away at it," Kaufman said. "The weather is going to make it easier work today."
With highways opened and most stranded travelers on their way to their destinations, the major concern was restoring power to more than 60,000 homes and businesses. Utility officials said it could take more than a week to get that job done.
Kansas National Guard troops on Sunday night took generators, fuel and supplies to assisted living centers and shelters "to be sure people's lives were protected," Watson said.
The only weather-related death reported as of Monday was a 48-year-old man who was found dead in a rural home in sparsely populated Wallace County, where 36 inches of snow fell. The sheriff's department said a generator apparently had been in use, but an official cause of death was pending.
There was no way into or out of Sharon Springs, in Wallace County, Monday, but the town of 835 did not lose power, said Bill Hassett, manager of the town's power plant.
"We're snowed under," Hassett said. "We're just in the process of digging out. We had total 36 inches of snow. Thank God we kept the lights on."
He said Sharon Springs did not have heavy ice weighing down power lines, which caused many of the power outages reported in other areas.
Wallace County officials rescued a family of nine, including an infant, Sunday night that were in a rural home without power, Watson said.
The ice took down 250 feet of a 1000-foot radio tower near Copeland, knocking radio stations KJIL and KHYM off the air in the Garden City-Liberal-Dodge City area, said Delvin Kinser, news director. Some communities that get the stations' signals via transponders or satellites were still receiving the station.
The stations, located in Meade, planned to affix antennas on its remaining tower until it can be replaced, which could take several weeks, Kinser said. Damage was estimated at a half-million dollars.
Two stranded vehicles were spotted Sunday by the Kansas Highway Patrol's airplane crew in Greeley County, also on the Colorado border, and their occupants were rescued by sheriff's deputies.
National Guard troops took generators Sunday night to Gove and Logan counties, and to emergency shelters in several western and central Kansas counties, including Thomas, Hamilton, Sheridan and Ellis.
The counties are among 17 reporting partial or total loss of power. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Saturday declared a disaster emergency to free resources to help 39 counties in northwest and southwest Kansas.
The storm blew into Kansas on Thursday and intensified Friday, dumping snowfall that ranged from 15 to 32 inches across western portions before ending early Sunday.