VAUGHN – Teddy Praylow had hoped to get his family to a hotel in Vaughn before a blizzard swept through New Mexico on Saturday, but his Mercury Mountaineer skidded off the road on ice-slicked U.S. 54 about 10 miles east of town.
The family of five spent the night in sleeping bags at Vaughn City Hall with 120 other stranded motorists after a sheriff’s deputy rescued Praylow, his wife, and children ages 6-12, in whiteout conditions and subfreezing temperatures.
New Mexicans spent Monday digging out from a weekend snowstorm that buried a multistate region in blowing and drifting snow, shutting down most highways in eastern New Mexico. Wind gusts up to 60 mph caused snowdrifts up to 10 feet and whiteout conditions on roadways.
Officials reopened Interstate 40 about 11 a.m. Monday, more than a day after blizzard conditions led to closure of the interstate from Albuquerque to Amarillo, leaving thousands of trucks parked on the roadside and in business parking lots since Saturday night.
The Praylows were among hundreds of families across eastern New Mexico left stranded by impassable roads and area power outages that sent many to shelters. In Moriarty, an estimated 300 stranded travelers sought shelter at the Lion’s Club, the Moriarty Civic Center and the Moriarty High School annex gym.
The National Weather Service reported impressive snowfall totals across eastern New Mexico, including 20 inches in Vaughn, 20 inches in Roswell, 15 inches in Moriarty and 13 inches in Clines Corner.
In Vaughn, located at the intersection of three highways closed by the storm, first responders brought dozens of families left stranded on wind-swept roadsides.
“We hit a patch of ice and slid,” said Praylow, a U.S. Army corporal stationed at Fort Bliss as he and family members and their three Chihuahuas waited at City Hall, where they spent both Saturday and Sunday night in a gymnasium-sized activity room.
The family expected a friend to arrive Monday afternoon to take them home to El Paso.
“We’re tired,” said Praylow’s wife, Joslyn Praylow. “We’re just ready to go home. We’re ready to be in our beds.”
Shaiann Thunderheart also spent early Sunday morning sleeping at City Hall after her car veered off U.S. 285 about 20 miles south of Vaughn late Saturday.
“It went completely whiteout,” said Thunderheart, who had tried to follow the taillights of the car in front of her. “I couldn’t see anything.”
A State Police officer also got stuck as he tried to rescue her, but he eventually got his car back on the road and drove Thunderheart and her boyfriend to City Hall about 2 a.m. Sunday, she said.
By late Monday, U.S. 285 had reopened from Vaughn to Roswell, said Matt Kennicott, spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Transportation.
The department was concentrating on hard-hit Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties in southeast New Mexico, where many roads remained closed Monday.
Roswell was hardest hit with snowdrifts up to 10 feet, Kennicott said. The department moved some heavy equipment from Santa Fe to the Roswell area to clear roads, he said.
“We have a heavy dozer with snowplows behind that – kind of a convoy,” Kennicott said. “Our guys are working as hard as they can to get roads open.”
Gov. Susana Martinez issued an executive order Monday to help keep up the supply of propane throughout the state. It suspends regulations on the number of hours that propane suppliers may drive in order to expedite deliveries.
In Albuquerque, all the main streets were clear by 10 a.m. Monday, according to Melanie Martinez, public information officer for the city’s Department of Municipal Development.
Journal staff writer Ollie Reed and Mountain View Telegraph writer Nicole Maxwell contributed to this report.