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Driving hazardous, deadly as storm slams Kansas

John Hanna, Associated Press

Blowing snow reduces vision as motorists wait for a light change in Lawrence, Kan., Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. The Midwest's first major snowstorm of the season was sweeping across several states early Thursday, shuttering schools, creating treacherous roadways and threatening to slow down one of the nation's busiest airports ahead of the holiday weekend. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Snow and bitter winds caused at least one fatal accident in Kansas as the state's first major snow storm of the season shuttered schools, temporarily closed highways and left thousands without power.

Gov. Sam Brownback delayed the opening of state offices until midmorning to give employees more time to get to work, but at least 30 public school districts, including Topeka and Lawrence, canceled classes for the day.

Westar Energy Inc., the state's largest electric company, said less than 1,000 of its customers remained without power Thursday evening.

One person died during a three-vehicle accident Wednesday night in southwestern Kansas during a blizzard. The Highway Patrol said a westbound tractor-trailer and an eastbound GMC vehicle collided on U.S. Highway 50, east of Dodge City, and another vehicle ran into the others. The crash killed 21-year-old Roy Gaytan of Dallas, Texas, who was a passenger in the GMC.

Interstate 70, which was closed on Wednesday, was open statewide Thursday morning with conditions described as icy and snow packed. For a short time Thursday morning, a stretch of U.S. 36 from just west of Troy to the Missouri border was closed in northeast Kansas, but the state Department of Transportation reported all roads open by midmorning.

Still, conditions along U.S. 36 near the northeast Kansas town of Hiawatha remained slick in places as the morning sun arrived, said Joetta Wagoner, an employee at the All Star Travel Plaza at the junction of U.S. 36 and U.S. 73. She'd slid off the road twice on her way into work early Thursday morning. She said two managers who couldn't make it in at all.

She said only a couple of inches of snow fell, but the wind whipped it up.

"It was a complete whiteout," she said.

Phil Mullis, manager of the Petro Stopping Center in Salina, saw numerous vehicles off to the side of the road during his 30-minute trip from his home in Abilene west to work. His truck stop is at the intersection of I-70 and U.S. 81.

"Ice was the biggest factor," Mullis said. "It's not over by any means as far as accidents go."

However, the snow was welcomed by farmers and state officials because of Kansas' ongoing drought.

"Hopefully we'll get a lot more snow. Heavy, wet snow that sits there for a day," Gov. Sam Brownback said before a meeting at the Statehouse on the drought. "Get it off the roads and on the wheat fields."


Also contributing was John Milburn in Topeka.


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