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Amtrak passengers stuck for three hours as storm dumps 8 feet of snow

December 23, 1996

RENO, Nev. (AP) _ Nevada’s state government was shut down today after a storm that dumped more than 8 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada, halting travel through the mountains and even stranding an Amtrak train.

The heavy snow closed most Tahoe-area highways during much of the weekend, including busy Interstate 80 and U.S. 50 which cross the mountains to connect the Reno-Tahoe area to Sacramento, Calif.

I-80 and U.S. 50 were open today, as the sky began clearing over the mountains, but chains were required and officials warned that travel would be slow.

More than 200 Amtrak passengers reached Sacramento early today after spending part of the night stuck in the deep snow at Blue Canyon.

The last car of the California Zephyr, westbound from Chicago to Oakland, Calif., derailed in the snow about 10:15 p.m. Sunday. The car remained upright and no one was hurt.

Amtrak officials loaded all the passengers onto one car, which left Blue Canyon about 1:30 a.m. and reached Sacramento more than three hours later.

More than 8 feet of snow fell on the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe, which lies along the California-Nevada state line.

``We knew the storm had the potential for heavy snow, but there’s no way we could have known we would get that much out of it,″ said National Weather Service meteorologist Ray Collins in Reno.

At lower elevations, Nevada Gov. Bob Miller told most state employees not to report to work today in Carson City, the state capital, because of dangerous road conditions.

``Carson City officials want to plow the snow and they don’t need extra cars,″ said Miller spokesman Richard Urey.

U.S. 395 between Reno and Carson City was open, but driving was treacherous because of blowing snow.

``Washoe Valley is a total whiteout,″ said state Trooper Jeff Leathly.

The storm caused hundreds of traffic accidents, including a collision outside Reno that killed one person, and long delays Sunday for thousands of passengers at Reno/Tahoe International Airport. The airport was shut down for about six hours Saturday because of poor visibility.

It also triggered widespread power outages that affected about 25,000 customers Sunday in the Reno-Carson City area. The Capitol Building in Carson City also was without power.

In northern California, a tornado destroyed a barn seven miles outside Napa. Some 10,000 customers were blacked out by downed power lines Sunday around the San Francisco Bay area. Power outages also were scattered across Southern California, where Mount Wilson got 3.37 inches of rain.

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