It could take weeks to restore power in parts of the United States Midwest hit hard by back-to-back snowstorms. Many roads remain impassable as businesses struggle to reopen. Although a major cleanup is underway, the economic losses are mounting.
Two powerful winter storms that struck just before Christmas and again after the New Year dumped nearly one meter of snow in parts of the Midwest, causing snow drifts as high as four and a half meters.
Thousands of people were left stranded -- some unable to leave their homes for over a week. One citizen said, "People can't get out of their homes. They can't get to the stores. The stores can't get employees out to work. It's a mess."
Several states have called on the U.S. Agriculture Department to declare the region a federal disaster area. Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman surveyed the damage from the air. "This is a very difficult situation and it's going to take some time from which to recover,” he said.
In Pueblo, Colorado, a few roads have reopened but most businesses are expected to remain closed for a while. National Guard troops said snow accumulations were so heavy they watched as a building collapsed. "All of a sudden we heard a few cracks and some pops and watched the entire building collapse towards Raton Street."
Business losses, estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, continue to rise. But the biggest worry right now is what to do with an estimated 350,000 head of cattle that remain stranded.
Colorado Rancher Yancy Shelton knows from experience that a little snow can be deadly for some animals. "Horses will dig out feed and eat snow whenever there's no water, but cattle, well, they can die of thirst and hunger in belly-deep snow."
Helicopters are dropping tons of hay into the snowy fields to save as many animals as they can. But state officials say some ranchers have already reported losses.
The last big snowstorm in this area in 1997 killed more than 30,000 cattle, some worth as much as $1,000 per head.
Nebraska resident Stanley Erickson says this storm is the worst he's ever seen. "We have had blizzards and stuff, you know, the snow blows and it gets down to 10 below (-23 Celsius) but it don't knock the power lines. This thing here -- when you lose your power -- you don't realize how important electricity is. Look at the people that got cattle, they've got to have a power unit to pump water. This is the worst storm. I'm not a climatologist, but I would say this storm is a one-in-a-hundred-year type ice storm."
Utility officials say it could take weeks before power is restored to thousands of homes and businesses stretching from Colorado to Oklahoma.