Locals help state recover from snowstorm | SummitDaily.com
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Locals help state recover from snowstorm

NICOLE FORMOSAsummit daily news
A Colorado National Guard helicopter flies over a home in extreme southeast Colorado as they search for stranded residents and cattle snowed in by back-to-back holiday blizzards Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2007, near Lamar, Colo. (AP Photo/Rocky Mountain News, Ahmad Terry) ** DENVER OUT, MAGS OUT, TV OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, INTERNET OUT **
AP | ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS

PROWERS COUNTY – Two separate groups of local emergency responders traveled to the vast ranchlands in the southeast corner of the state this week to help bring relief to the area hardest hit by last week’s powerful blizzard.JoBen Slivka and Mark Hackett from Summit County Communications, Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue Asst. Chief Bruce Farrell, Summit County Ambulance Service director Sean Caffrey and paramedics Kim Campbell and Jenn Oese left with a team of 10 people late Tuesday night for the town of Springfield in Baca County, and expect to remain there into the weekend.Summit County Search and Rescue members Glen Kraatz and John Agnew, and Summit County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Cale Osborn, who heads up special operations in the county, returned Wednesday night after a 2-day deployment near the Kansas and Oklahoma borders.Their mission was to drive snowmobiles into areas the National Guard hadn’t been able to search sufficiently because of equipment limitations.

“They had tracked vehicles and a certain amount of off-road capabilities, but most of their stuff is much bigger,” Kraatz said. “It’s like going in with a snowcat versus a snowmobile.”The Dec. 28 storm dumped up to 3 feet of snow on the eastern plains, knocking out power to thousands of homes and trapping people beyond impassable roads. High winds caused snowdrifts of up to 10 feet in some places, further complicating the situation.The three local search and rescue members spent all day Tuesday maneuvering their snowmobiles through the closed, snowpacked roads outside the tiny town of Granada to check on potentially stranded residents, and found that most people were self-sufficient.”This group of people down there are pretty independent,” Kraatz said. “They are used to being out there by themselves. If they have a problem, they figure out how to solve it. They don’t really expect somebody to come out there and take care of them.”

Still, the rescuers did come upon a few situations where people were isolated and needed food or medications, and were able to direct the National Guard to their aid, Kraatz said. They also transported a utility crew out to some downed power lines that they hadn’t been able to reach because the roads weren’t plowed, he said.From Kraatz’s perspective, the primary need in the six-county area affected by the storm doesn’t lie with the people, but the herds of cattle.”I would say the biggest priority right now is to try to get feed to this huge number of cattle that are stranded out in the field,” he said. “They could be stuck in some area where the drifting and so on is preventing them from getting back to the ranch houses or wherever they get their feed.” National Guard helicopters have dropped hundreds of bales of hay on ranches near the cattle in the last several days, and troops began driving in food to the animals as soon as the roads had been plowed.By Wednesday, Kraatz said they no longer needed snowmobiles for their mission because most of the roads had been cleared.

Almost 50 miles to the south, the other group from Summit County began working at the command center in Springfield early Wednesday morning.Farrell, a longtime local firefighter in the county, was stationed in the headquarters Wednesday afternoon mapping out what roads had been opened and assessing what could be cleared next. He also expected to start tracking buildings in the area that had been damaged by the heavy snowloads.Farrell and the rest of the local crew are all part of the state’s northwest region Type 3 Incident Management Team, which includes representatives from Summit, Grand, Jackson, Routt, Eagle, Mesa, Garfield, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Pitkin counties.The group formed about a year ago and has been training together, but this is its first deployment, Farrell said.

“It’s a great learning experience,” Farrell said. “Every time we go out we learn new stuff so hopefully next time we go out we’re better at our jobs.”Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at nformosa@summitdaily.com.


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