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Western snowstorm closes roads, stranding travelers

Heavy snow from a winter storm blanketed parts of the West on Friday, stranding motorists throughout New Mexico and delaying holiday travelers trying to fly in and out of Albuquerque and Denver.

The snow and high winds struck the region Thursday and forced dozens of drivers off Interstate 40 after severe conditions made driving in western New Mexico nearly impossible.

"If you don't have [four-wheel drive] and you just have two-wheel you're either going to spin or stay stuck," stranded motorist Tarquin Wilding told KOAT-TV while in Grants, N.M., on his way to Santa Fe.

Grants and parts of western New Mexico were slammed with more than a foot of snow by Friday morning, the National Weather Service reported. A winter storm warning for the state expired in the afternoon, but meteorologists said the snow wasn't expected to clear up until the weekend.

Some parts of the state saw 17 inches of snow as state and local police responded to dozens of minor accidents. No major injuries were reported.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation closed parts of I-40 around Albuquerque and in eastern New Mexico because of poor driving conditions due to ice and heavy winds. Large portions of I-25 from Truth or Consequences to Las Cruces, and I-10 in western New Mexico also were closed, and authorities were urging motorists to seek shelter in hotels.

In Rio Rancho, N.M., Police Officer Charles Ritter turned away motorist after motorist along U.S. 550, telling them that much of northwestern New Mexico had been shuttered by the storm.

"It's for their own safety," he said after one woman pleaded unsuccessfully to get past the roadblock so she could get to her father's home in Colorado.

Jim Hunsaker, a Union Pacific Railroad employee, had hoped to get home to Salt Lake City before Christmas Eve after spending several days working in New Mexico.

"It's mindboggling that they even close these roads. In Utah, this isn't nothing," he said of the conditions Friday morning. "We travel in conditions like this all the time, so it's kind of frustrating they've got me shut down here."