January 10, 2011

Slick roads cause dozens of accidents during evening commute

WICHITA — Slippery roads hampered Wichita drivers during their evening commute today, causing dozens of accidents in the trail of a fresh wave of snow from the first major storm of winter.

There were 43 accidents reported since 4 p.m., Sedgwick County dispatchers said.

Most were one-vehicle mishaps, sliding off exit ramps or spinning out of control on the slick roads, a dispatch supervisor said this afternoon. No serious injuries had been reported as of 5:30 p.m.

This morning, one person was killed and two others injured in a collision in southeast Kansas, according to the Kansas Highway Patrol.

Sally Donaldson, 63, of Toronto was killed when the car she was driving went out of control on the icy road and hit a sport utility vehicle just before 9:30 a.m. on U.S. 75, about three miles north of Independence.

Two people in the second vehicle were taken to Mercy Hospital in Independence for treatment.

More than 120 accidents were reported in the city of Wichita between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., Lt. Doug Nolte said. Six injuries were reported from those accidents, but none were serious.

Nearly 4 inches of snow had fallen by 4 p.m. in Wichita, according to the National Weather Service.

Streets and highways — particularly bridges and elevated roadways — were snowpacked and slick for the morning commute.

"If you don't have to commute today — don't," Kansas Department of Transportation spokesman Tom Hein said via Twitter shortly after 7 a.m.

City, county and Kansas Department of Transportation crews were treating streets and highways, and Hein said via Twitter that highways in the Wichita area were mostly clear of the snow pack by shortly after noon.

But snow began falling a short time later, and Hein said a glaze was developing on bridges and elevated roadways.

A train clipped the back end of a trailer at Broadway and 29th Street North shortly after 3 p.m. No injuries were reported, the train was stopped for several hours.

Tony Decicco, a maintenance engineer with the city of Wichita, said about 60 pieces of equipment and 60 workers are out on each of two 12-hour shifts.

A 20-man crew also is working to clear downtown and Old Town, Decicco said.

The inauguration of Governor-Elect Sam Brownback and other state officials was moved indoors in Topeka this morning because of the snow and cold.

"We want to ensure the safety of everyone attending and participating in the event," said Sherrienne Jones-Sontag, a spokeswoman for Brownback, said in a prepared statement. "With several inches of snow on the ground and very cold temperatures, it isn't practical to proceed with our original plans."

Back in Wichita, authorities blamed many accidents on commuters tailgating or driving too fast for the conditions.

"Leave early - take your time," Hein urged motorists via Twitter early Monday morning.

Slide-offs and wrecks were reported on several city streets, as well as K-96, K-254, Kellogg, I-135 and I-235, authorities said.

"We've had multiple slide-offs at Kellogg and Seneca," a Sedgwick County dispatcher said.

School in Valley Center was canceled because of a power outage, USD 262 officials reported on the district web site.

Nearly 2,500 Westar customers in Sedgwick County did not have electricity as of 8 a.m. - most of them in Valley Center. Power had been restored by noon, however.

AirTran Airways cancelled all flights into and out of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport today because of the snow that has pummeled the city. Seven inches was reported in Atlanta, weather officials said.

Four Delta flights were also canceled — arrivals from Atlanta and Memphis, and departures to Atlanta and Minneapolis.

The Emergency Accident Reporting Plan remains in effect.

Sedgwick County fire officials on Monday asked residents and businesses to clear snow from fire hydrants. That can save precious time when firefighters need to access the hydrant in a fire emergency, officials said.

Residents should create a three-foot-wide clearing around the hydrant, along with a pathway to the street.

Homeowners and businesses also should clear house and building numbers of any snow so they are visible to emergency responders, officials said.

Wichita is expected to receive up to 5 inches of snow by the time the storm ends early this evening, said Vanessa Pearce, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

More than three inches of snow had fallen in much of Wichita by noon, according to the National Weather Service.

Arctic air will move into the region tonight and remain for the next several days. Highs will only be in the teens in Wichita, with overnight lows dropping below zero at times.

Wind chills will be well below zero tonight and tomorrow, Pearce said.

Considering how mild the winter has been so far in the area, Pearce said, "I think the cold will be a wake-up call."

Contributing: Deb Gruver of the Eagle and the Associated Press.


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