Authorities Work to Bring Hay, Groceries to Plains

January 3, 2007

Colorado officials scrambled to find helicopters and other equipment on Tuesday in an effort to get hay to thousands of stranded cattle in the southeasten part of the state, five days after a snowstorm buried the region in drifts up to 10 feet high. The agricultural industry feared livestock will die following the major snowstorm.

Authorities also were trying to bring in groceries to restock grocery store shelves as supplies dwindled.

George Epp, director of the state Division of Emergency Management, said the state got permission to use one Chinook helicopter from the Oklahoma National Guard. He said air operations being launched Tuesday morning also would include four Blackhawk helicopters and three other helicopters.

He said the Department of Agriculture estimated there were 345,000 cattle in the region, worth an average $1,000 each.

Department of Agriculture Executive Director Don Ament said the situation for cattle was grave, as Colorado competed with Kansas to find enough helicopters with equipment to carry bundles of hay that weigh up to 1,300 pounds.

He said an aerial survey of the Eastern Plains on New Year’s Day turned up 100 sites where cattle had gathered, while others were seen wandering rural roads. He said the state’s cargo helicopters are in the Middle East and the smaller helicopters in the National Guard don’t have hay hooks. He said the state also has snowmobiles, but no sleds that can carry heavy loads.

“These cattle have already gone a number of days without food and water. They’re just going to lay over dead if we don’t do something soon,” Ament said.

Civil Air Patrol planes flew over the snow-covered plains Monday, some using infrared heat-sensing equipment to help crews spot animals in case they need to be fed.

Ament said the state doesn’t have the resources it had in 1997, when a blizzard killed up to 30,000 head of livestock, costing farmers and ranchers an estimated $28 million.

Following a blizzard last week that dumped nearly 3 feet of snow and piled some of it in drifts 15 feet high, division spokeswoman Polly White said that grocery stores in Springfield were running out of food. Nearly 3,000 people near Lamar and Walsh were without power because power lines were knocked down in the storm, she said.

The roof of an assisted living center in Walsh collapsed but there were no reports of injuries, White said. The center is attached to a nursing home and residents were moved there.

The National Guard used both tracked and wheeled vehicles to help local authorities get emergency supplies like medicine or baby formula to isolated homes, said Col. Hans Kallam. The Guard also helped resupply emergency shelters, where 542 people spent the night Sunday.

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