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300 stranded in S.L. by winter's first blizzard

As many as 300 travelers had to spend Friday night and part of Saturday at the Greyhound bus terminal after five eastbound buses were sent back to Salt Lake City due to impassable roads.

The buses were routed back after several roads, including I-80, were closed between Rock Springs, Wyo., and Cheyenne due to bad weather conditions, said terminal manager Phil Rosa.The situation eased up a little on Saturday after buses took some passengers north, south or west where roads are open.

But people with tickets heading east probably will have to stay here through Sunday, Rosa predicted. "Getting people through the Cheyenne-Denver area is what's bottle-necked."

He had gotten mixed reports about roads being cleared and was waiting for new information Saturday afternoon to see when buses could begin rolling again.

Many travelers opted to sleep in their bus seats Friday night, but some opted for local hotels. "A lot of people have money, and they decided they wanted to go to a hotel," Rosa said.

The Salvation Army came to the bus station Friday night and provided meals. "They did a fantastic job," Rosa said. "We have a little restaurant here, and Greyhound has been giving away food vouchers to keep people fed. I haven't even kept track of how many food vouchers. It's been several hundred - as fast as the copy machine could keep up."

The first blizzard of the season shut down much of the western Plains on Saturday, with up to 3 feet of wind-driven snow closing hundreds of miles of highways and leaving travelers in several states snowbound in bus depots, airports and truck stops.

Most of the Greyhound passengers stuck in Salt Lake City came from the West Coast and had been traveling for several days, Rosa said.

"We don't guarantee departure or arrival times," Rosa said. "We are not responsible for an act of God."

However, "we try to make (the journey) as pleasant as possible," he said.

"There's nothing we can do about it," said Peter Cabrera who is headed for Burlington, N.J., on a business trip. He said he expected to arrive Sunday night but now he doesn't expect to get there before Monday.

Others huddled in the terminal seats sipping coffee and chatting among themselves.

"I'm tired and impatient and I have nowhere else to go," said Megan Meeson, an Alaskan who is going to visit her boyfriend in Grand Junction, Colo.

"It's a tough way to travel," Rosa said.

Interstates and other highways were closed across a large part of eastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming, along with adjoining sections of Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico.

"We're flat shut down," Lincoln County sheriff's spokesman Dale Briggs said in Hugo, Colo. "The only things moving are four-wheel-drives and emergency vehicles."

Snowfall totals by Saturday morning in Colorado included 38 inches at Coal Creek Canyon, 24 in Boulder and 20 inches in Denver. Snow fell as far south as the Texas Panhandle as the storm rolled eastward across the Plains.

Colorado Gov. Roy Romer declared a state of emergency and mobilized the National Guard to rescue stranded motorists. The Colorado Department of Transportation said it had 1,600 snowplows working Saturday.

"Snowplow drivers reported snowdrifts were covering cars," department spokesman Dan Hopkins said.

About 2,000 people were stranded at airline terminals at Denver International Airport.

The airport remained operational and five flights landed during the morning.

But flights were canceled later because the road to the airport was closed. "The minute you plow it it blows right over again," said airport spokesman Chuck Cannon.

The city of Denver, however, had gone on alert a day before the storm and major streets were kept open Saturday.

Up to a foot of snow on the Nebraska Panhandle forced the State Patrol to close a 107-mile stretch of I-80 from Big Springs to the Wyoming state line.

The worldwide El Nino phenomenon, expected to give parts of the West a wet, stormy winter, "very possibly could be" involved in the severity of the October blizzard, said Frank Denton at the National Weather Service office in Denver.