Colorado launched a haylift Tuesday to try to save thousands of cattle stranded by 10-foot-(3-meter-)high snowdrifts left after back-to-back blizzards paralyzed life in the Rocky Mountain state.
Across four states, from Colorado to the Oklahoma Panhandle and Nebraska, utility crews struggled to restore electrical service to tens of thousands of homes. Grocery store shelves went bare, and plane crews searched highways and fields for stranded travelers, in some places using heat-sensing equipment to locate cattle.
Colorado National Guard troops and state workers planned to take groceries into snowbound areas with Humvees and drop hay bales into pastures.
The livestock situation was grave in Colorado as the state competed with Kansas to find enough helicopters capable of hauling hay bales that weigh up to 1,300 pounds (585 kilograms), said Department of Agriculture Executive Director Don Ament said. He said many of the state's National Guard cargo helicopters are deployed with Colorado units in Iraq.
Ament said an aerial survey on New Year's Day turned up 100 sites where cattle had gathered.
"These cattle have already gone a number of days without food and water. They're just going to lay over dead if we don't do something soon," Ament said.
A first flight of two small Huey helicopters took off Tuesday morning.
Pilots headed for herds mapped the previous day by spotter planes, said Capt. Robert Bell, a Guard spokesman. They had to deal with snow whipped up by their rotors, and searched for level, hard-packed spots to set down, but were more likely to be forced to simply drop the feed, he said.
What no one wants is a repeat of 1997, when a blizzard killed up to 30,000 farm animals, said Polly White of the Colorado Division of Emergency Management.
Ice and heavy snow also bent over electrical towers and downed hundreds of miles (kilometers) of power lines. At least 60,000 homes and businesses in western Kansas, more than 15,000 in Nebraska, and 6,000-plus in Colorado and Oklahoma were without electricity, and some utility officials warned it could take more than a week to restore.
Every motel in the western Nebraska town of Kearney was full with people who had no electricity at their homes, said a spokeswoman at the Kearney Ramada Inn.
In Oklahoma's Panhandle, National Guard troops and local authorities were going door-to-door at farms and ranches in isolated areas Tuesday, checking on residents who had been snowed in and without power for four days.
The snowbound Kansas town of Sharon Springs still had no clear way in or out for its 835 residents on Monday, but at least they did not lose power, said Bill Hassett, manager of the town's power plant, reports AP.
Slightly warmer temperatures on Monday helped workers still trying to reopen the roads, said Kansas Department of Transportation spokesman Ron Kaufman.
The Colorado National Guard, which the governor activated twice in the span of a week because of the back-to-back blizzards, helped carry emergency supplies such as medicine and baby formula to isolated homes.