State slowly digs out from winter whiteout

A City of Hutchison, Kan., front end loader clears snow from intersections on S. Main St. Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. The winter storm dumped more than 10 inches of snow on the city from late Monday to late Tuesday. (AP Photo/The Hutchinson News, Travis Morisse)
A City of Hutchison, Kan., front end loader clears snow from intersections on S. Main St. Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. The winter storm dumped more than 10 inches of snow on the city from late Monday to late Tuesday. (AP Photo/The Hutchinson News, Travis Morisse)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas dug out Wednesday after a thick blanket of snow closed schools and shut down state government for a second consecutive day, making streets and highways slick and forcing hundreds of homeless people to seek shelter.

The storm had dumped more than a foot of snow in some parts of northern Kansas, including the capital of Topeka. The Highway Patrol linked the weather to highway crashes Tuesday in southeast and south-central Kansas that killed a total of three people.

Teams went out Tuesday and Wednesday in Topeka to coax “hardcore outdoors folks” to come inside, said Barry Feaker, executive director of the Topeka Rescue Mission. Then 308 homeless people sought refuge at the shelter, Feaker said.

“We are out of room,” he said, adding that the facility could add more cots with the city’s permission.

Some mentally ill residents who don’t like being around others could be placed in hotel rooms, he said. The shelter serves an average of 1,200 meals a day from 5 a.m. through early evening.

The snow stopped falling early Wednesday as the storm tracked toward the New England states. The National Weather Service said 9 inches of snow fell in Wichita, and more than a foot in Topeka and surrounding cities.

Temperatures for Wednesday were forecast to stay under 10 degrees for much of the state, accompanied by wind chills well below zero. There was a slight chance of additional snow to return to Kansas through Monday with temperatures remaining below freezing.

Still, Gov. Sam Brownback declared that state offices in the area would resume normal operating hours Thursday, and the Legislature planned to return to the Statehouse after two days of canceled meetings.

Most schools and universities remained closed Wednesday. Fort Leavenworth was operating on a four-hour delay at the northeast Kansas Army post.

Two traffic deaths Tuesday afternoon from a two-car crash on U.S. 69 south of Pittsburg in Crawford County were blamed on the weather conditions. In a separate accident, also believed to be weather-related, a truck driver was killed when his truck collided with another Tuesday morning on Interstate 135 just north of Hesston in south-central Kansas.

The highway patrol said the driver, 58-year-old Richard Lynn Conquest of Moundridge, died Wednesday in a hospital.

The Kansas Department of Transportation reported most other major highways were still covered with snow or ice Wednesday morning.

In Topeka, Jason Wills, an electrician for the agency that maintains state buildings, used a blower to clear snow from the sidewalks around his and neighbors’ homes near the public library after spending part of his morning doing the same outside his church. The father of four installed a spare carburetor to get it running.

Down the block, Pat Firebaugh, an investigator with the Kansas attorney general’s office, braved the cold to try to extricate his car from the parking lot of his apartment complex. He said he spent Tuesday holed up in his apartment.

“I’m going to get out and get moving,” he said. “I’m more worried about getting out of the parking lot than the streets.”

In Wichita, the city was using sand to treat its roads because the cold made salt less effective, said Joe Pajor, the deputy public works director.

Rural areas were digging out, too. Near Brewster in northwest Kansas, rancher Mike Schultz was up at 6 a.m. to start his tractors and feed his 80 head of cattle. He used them to plow a snow-drifted county road to reach his herd in a pasture 14 miles from his home.

“It is kind of miserable,” he said.

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