High winds and snow drifts continue to plague the western plains and parts of the Rocky Mountains in the United States. The total affected area extends from the Dakotas in the north to the Texas panhandle in the south. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, economic costs are mounting in both urban and rural areas.

After four major winter storms in the past few weeks, officials in the western mountain region are watching weather forecasts and bracing for another storm predicted for the end of this week.

In large parts of eastern Colorado and New Mexico and in western Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, workers are still trying to restore electrical service to farms and small towns where lines were knocked down by snow, ice and high winds over the past couple of weeks. National Guard troops are dropping hay for cattle stranded in some areas, but ranchers fear they may have lost thousands of animals to the recent bad weather.

In the Denver, Colorado area, most roads have been cleared of heavy snow, but winds blowing at speeds up to 184 kilometers per hour are causing drifts to form. This past weekend, eight motorists were trapped by an avalanche that buried their vehicles in snow. At least two of the vehicles were swept off the road by the massive movement of snow down the mountain side. Rescuers freed all of the people from the snow, and no one sustained a major injury.

Stacey Stegman of the Colorado Department of Transportation says the skies are now clear in the area, but winds are still a problem.

"Today, we are dealing with extremely high winds in the Denver metropolitan area," said Stacey Stegman. "We have three highways closed right now because of the blowing and drifting snow. As an example, we have had windshields blown out of plows today, just because the winds are so extreme, and we have these roads closed, because they [the plows] would make a pass through, and then turn around after going three blocks, and there would be a foot [30 centimeters] of snow on the highway just because of the winds."

Stegman says traffic in the Denver area is now back to near normal conditions, in spite of the snow. She says crews have also removed snow from some slopes near highways in the mountain passes, in order to reduce the threat of further avalanches.

"The winds are still extreme on some of the higher mountain passes, creating some difficulty with visibility and a little blowing snow," noted Stacey Stegman. "But, as far as the avalanche danger, we have done a lot of work in the past couple of days to bring down a lot of snow. That potential is always there, but we believe we have done a lot of work to minimize that potential."

Business losses in the western states affected by the storms are in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and could mount further, if the weather does not improve soon. Some 350,000 head of cattle remain stranded, and stores remain closed in some communities because of snow drifts and lack of electrical power. President Bush has declared emergency conditions in 14 counties in Colorado, making them eligible for federal aid to assist local officials trying to deal with the aftermath of the storms.