Blizzard shuts I-80 in Nebraska, strands motorists

OMAHA, Nebraska Fri Apr 15, 2011 3:30pm EDT

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OMAHA, Nebraska (Reuters) - A spring blizzard dumped up to 16 inches of snow in Nebraska, stranding dozens of motorists and forcing the closure of state's main highway, Interstate 80, for a 120 mile stretch, officials said on Friday.

Nebraska officials urged motorists to stay put on I-80, which was closed Thursday night and remained shut down Friday afternoon to allow authorities to clear stranded vehicles, mainly from a 12-mile construction zone.

The construction zone between Paxton and Ogallala, Nebraska, had many stranded semi-trailer trucks. A handful of accidents were reported, but no serious injuries, Nebraska State Patrol spokeswoman Deb Collins said.

It will still be slow driving conditions in the area once the roads are reopened, Collins said.

"We have traffic backing up at interstate closure points both east and west and basically they have nowhere to go," Troop D Commander Captain Jim Parish said.

Falling tree limbs weighted with heavy, wet snow pulled down power lines and snapped power poles in the region where the states of Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado meet.

The storm started as rain in some areas and developed to snow overnight with surface winds increasing to blizzard conditions across southwest Nebraska by Thursday evening, the National Weather Service said.

Paxton, Nebraska, was hit by 16 inches of snow and drifts in west central Nebraska reached 5 feet deep, the weather service said.

(Reporting by David Hendee; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Greg McCune)

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