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CNN Today

Ice Storm Snarls Traffic on I-20 in Texas

Aired December 28, 2000 - 1:03 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: That big winter storm is creating more misery in the Southern Plains. The storm now is blamed for at least 19 deaths, and has made it virtually impossible to hit the road. The weather's caused the mother of all traffic jams in Texas. At least 1,000 people are stuck on Interstate 20 near Abilene. Some of them have been in their cars since last night. The storm hit about 6:00 p.m. local time.

On the phone with us now is Michael Polk.

Now Michael runs a tire service just off Interstate 20; is that right, Mike?

MICHAEL POLK, BUSINESSMAN: Yes, it is.

WATERS: You have been monitoring the situation, and been one of the little elves that have been helping these folks. What's been going on through the night?

POLK: I've been -- I don't know just going slow, and trying to move along when they shouldn't be.

WATERS: Well, we're told there's at least a thousand people out there, and some have been in their cars throughout the night, I assume their motors have been running to keep their heaters running so they are running out of fuel. Are you helping with that?

POLK: They slide off in the ditch and knock the tire off the wheel, you know, I go out and jack up the car, and put the tire back on the wheel for them. And get them back to rolling.

WATERS: You mean some of these folks are rolling, they are able to get home out of this mess?

POLK: They're trying, like I said, they shouldn't be, but they're trying, trying to get on where they need to be.

WATERS: What is it about this Ranger Hill here? Were some folks unaware of the problems created when ice comes to Ranger Hill?

POLK: Yeah. It's a pretty steep grade of hill, and just slightest little bit of ice. Not only a hill, it's a curve at the same time. You know, it's a dangerous spot. You know, and they don't realize there's, once you start going down, there is no way to stop. WATERS: OK, I'm sure those folks are glad you are around. Michael Polk helping out the folks stranded on I-20 runs through Texas.

We have Bobby Densman on the line with us from the Department of Public Safety. How bad is it, Mr. Densman?

BOBBY DENSMAN, TEXAS DEPT. OF SAFETY: We just finished flying with the DPS fixed-winged plane. The roadways are all clear now. Traffic is all moving very slow. We have got a couple of jackknifed 18 wheelers, when we get those cleared, the traffic will move right on through, and we should be out of any kind of problems in probably an hour and a half.

WATERS: Anybody get hurt or anybody get frostbite in the night that you know of?

DENSMAN: No, no injuries that we know of. The volunteer fire department out of Cisco, Ranger, and Eastland, cities along Interstate 20. They were carrying fuel to the automobiles and automobiles running for people to stay warm. We never had any problems with any cold weather as far as people were concerned.

WATERS: So the storm hit suddenly, and there was much ice, some jackknifed trucks, a combination of all that, and that brought it to a standstill here on what we are referring to as Ranger Hill?

DENSMAN: That's correct.

WATERS: What has the highway patrol been able to do. We understand the National Guard was called out with their Humvees and their overland vehicles to help out here, what can the highway patrol do?

DENSMAN: The Highway Patrol, they've moved up and down through the traffic, checking on people to make sure everyone was taken care of. And everyone had ample fuel and stuff to keep automobiles runs, and the National Guard helped deliver that fuel if we had vehicles getting low.

WATERS: I see. Nobody had to be taken by Humvee to a hospital or anything like that?

DENSMAN: No, sir.

WATERS: Just a matter of braving the elements.

DENSMAN: That's right.

WATERS: Bobby Densman, thanks so much, with the Department of Public Safety in Texas.

As many as a half a million people have had to deal with no electricity because of this storm in the center of the country. Power lines snapped under the weight of the ice. The governor of Oklahoma has declared all 77 counties in his state a disaster area. And it may be late next week before the electricity is back on for everyone in Arkansas. We've been telling you about problems there for most of the week. The downed trees and power lines there are giving drivers something else to navigate. This is the second big ice storm to hit Arkansas this month.

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