Ritter declares blizzard emergency, activates National Guard to assist

As the biggest storm of the season continued to pile up deep snow across the state, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter declared on official disaster Thursday afternoon. Ritter activated the National Guard to help rescue stranded motorists and authorized $200,000 for emergency aid, his office announced.

The Colorado Department of Transportation closed highways — including Interstate 70 east of Tower Road, Interstate 25 north of Wellington and U.S. 36 between Boulder and Denver — as vicious winds whipped the white stuff into blizzards, causing multiple accidents in white-out conditions.

“Our first and foremost concern is the health, safety and welfare of Colorado’s citizens,” the governor said in a statement. “We have activated the State Emergency Operations Center to monitor conditions, coordinate the state’s resources and respond as needed. We are also asking residents to limit their travel and encourage employers to consider releasing employees in a phased manner to alleviate heavy traffic this afternoon.”

Several airlines cancelled flights in and out of Denver International Airport, with Southwest Airlines scratching its entire schedule Thursday and both United and Frontier Airlines curtailing about one-third of Thursday’s flights, The Denver Post reports.

Ever wondered what an official disaster declaration looks like? Here’s a portion of Ritter’s order:

Executive Order D 005 09
“Declaring a Disaster Emergency Due to a Severe Blizzard”

Beginning early on the morning of March 26, 2009, a blizzard hit the State and it is predicted to cover much of Colorado before it dissipates. It is predicted that this blizzard will drop between one and two feet of snow in communities along the Front Range and in excess of three feet of snow in the foothills, mountains, and southwest part of the State. Moreover, current high winds and rain turning to snow and ice have impacted traffic safety, including causing the closure of U.S. Highway 36 between Westminster and Boulder. The blizzard has already stranded motorists who are now in need of rescue, and it is expected that this need for emergency assistance will only grow as the full force of the blizzard moves across the State.

As Governor, I am responsible for meeting the dangers to the state and people presented by disasters. The Colorado Disaster Emergency Act (hereinafter the “Act”), defines a disaster as “the occurrence or imminent threat of widespread or severe damages, injury or loss of life or property resulting from any natural cause or cause of human origin, including but not limited to . . . storm.” C.R.S. § 24-32-2103(1.5). As detailed in this Order, this snowstorm poses an imminent danger to human life and property and, therefore, constitutes a disaster for the purposes of the Act.

In response to this disaster, I am declaring a statewide disaster emergency and activating certain elements of the Colorado National Guard to assist with the disaster emergency response effort. Specifically, I authorize the activation of National Guard troops, and the utilization of state emergency personnel, emergency equipment, and the state’s disaster emergency fund.

State emergency equipment and personnel will be available to rescue stranded motorists, transport emergency materials to locations such as shelters and the airport, clear roadways for emergency vehicles and stranded motorists, and respond to individual emergency situations. These efforts are necessary to adequately prepare to respond to emergency situations caused by the blizzard.

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Ernest Luning

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