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Parts of N.M. in state of emergency

Richard Nunn of Hobbs was on his way to Albuquerque when he skidded off the icy road south of Vaughn.

"I'm not very happy," Nunn said Tuesday after hitching a ride to Vaughn, where he waited for a wrecker to come deal with his car.

Tow truck operator Alex Rael said Tuesday was busy.

"They've been calling and calling for a tow truck," he said.

More than 200 stranded motorists spent Monday night at Vaughn's City Hall after state police closed roads in and out of the central New Mexico community, said Teri Apodaca, city clerk.

Most left Tuesday morning, but Apodaca said they had to take an alternate route -- U.S. 54 north to Santa Rosa to hook up with Interstate 25. U.S. 285 toward the Interstate remained closed through the morning.

But, she said, "they were willing to do anything to get home."

Winds up to 50 mph caused 7-foot-tall snow drifts in parts of northern and eastern New Mexico on Tuesday, paralyzing travelers and closing roads and schools.

In Gallup, a tractor-trailer rig carrying military explosives jackknifed on an icy patch of Interstate 40. Two schools, a 60-store mall and other businesses were evacuated and state police called military explosives ordinance teams to handle the artillery powder inside the truck, which was safely towed to the nearby Fort Wingate Army Depot to wait for a replacement vehicle.

In snow-covered Mora County -- declared an emergency area -- people were digging themselves out of their homes.

"Our phones have been ringing off the hook from people who are stranded, ranchers who can't get to their cattle," County Manager Charlie Padilla said. "We're in a pretty dire situation."

Thousands of cattle died in Chaves County in December 1997 after a storm dumped more than a foot of snow. One calf-raising ranch south of Dexter lost about 3,000 calves at the time.

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Bad roads stranded Albuquerque's Eldorado Eagles basketball team, which played in Carlsbad on Friday night, then ended up staying there until Monday. The team headed home Monday, but road closures -- and high wind that knocked out the windshield on their bus -- forced them to spend the night in Vaughn. They arrived home Tuesday afternoon, about the time school let out.

Classes were canceled Tuesday at public school districts in Estancia, Mora, Moriarty, Mountainair and Vaughn.

And the Santa Fe County Commission also declared a state of emergency Tuesday for its southern area, including Edgewood, Stanley and other communities nearby, County Manager Samuel Montoya said.

Blowing and drifting snow closed U.S. 285 between Roswell and Clines Corners; N.M. 21 between Cimarron and Miami; U.S. 54 between Vaughn and Santa Rosa; N.M. 55 and N.M. 542 in the Mountainair area; U.S. 60 between Vaughn and Fort Sumner and between Willard and Mountainair; U.S. 64 between Tierra Amarilla and Chama; N.M. 3 between Encino and Duran; and N.M. 54 between Corona and Carrizozo.

Crews in Mora County concentrated on digging out county roads and opening up driveways on rights of way, Padilla said. "It's basically against the law for us to open up any private roads," he said. "They have to get their own contractors."

County Sheriff John Sanchez said the snow prevented some elderly people from getting home health care. He estimated it could be four days before the state of emergency is lifted.

Crews were removing 2- to 6-foot drifts of snow in adjacent San Miguel County as well.

County Manager Les Montoya told the Las Vegas Optic the county had to hire a bulldozer to clear the snow that drifted over the roads in high winds. "They cleared the roads yesterday evening (Monday), but the wind just blew it all over again," said Sharon Roybal of Rainsville, a farming community 8 miles east of Mora.

Her husband, Ted Roybal, was stuck briefly Tuesday morning on his way to work at his gasoline station in Mora. Sharon Roybal said snow drifts in the area were about 5 feet high.

"He attempted to go outside to see what the roads are like, and he didn't get very far -- about a fourth of a mile from the house," she said.

Roybal made it to his station after shoveling out his four-wheel-drive pickup from snowdrifts up to 2 feet tall on the road.

"The fields are clean (of snow)," Roybal said. "It's just where you have a little bit of a wind stop -- that's where the snow starts piling up."

A weekend Pacific storm left an estimated 30 to 35 inches of snow in canyons northwest of Las Vegas, 20 inches at Sandia Park on the east side of the Sandia Mountains, 14 inches at Los Alamos and 2 to 7 inches in the Gila Wilderness of southwestern New Mexico, said Kurt Van Speybroeck, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Albuquerque.

Low temperatures ranged from the single digits and the teens in the mountains and the north to the 20s to near 40 elsewhere.

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