UPDATE: Snowstorm closes I-70 in Boone County, causes accidents

Thursday, February 21, 2013 | 3:37 p.m. CST; updated 10:10 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 21, 2013

COLUMBIA — All four lanes of Interstate 70 between U.S. 63 and the Lake of the Woods exit will be closed for several hours, the Missouri Department of Transportation announced at 4:15 p.m. 

Traffic in the westbound lane was open as of 6:05 pm., according to Travis Koestner, assistant district engineer for the department's central district. Traffic in the eastbound lane was still closed, and Koestner was unsure how far traffic backed up.

Both eastbound and westbound lanes were open as of 7:58 p.m.

The interstate had been partially or completely closed for a series of weather-related accidents since about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

At about 4 p.m., Columbia Public Works released a statement that said plowing crews will continue working on first- and second-priority routes, though sleet and freezing rain is making work difficult. 

Fresh crews will arrive at 7 p.m. to continue plowing top-priority routes, the release said. "If all goes well," Columbia residents can expect plowing on smaller residential areas to begin late Friday afternoon, the release said.

Trash collection stopped at 1:30 p.m. and will continue Friday and Saturday, according to the release.

The snowstorm caused a slew of accidents because of poor visibility and extraordinary conditions, Boone County Fire Protection District shift supervisor Chuck Mastalski said.

None of the accidents involved serious injuries, and no transports to medical facilities were reported. One accident at the 6400 block of U.S. 63 involved a rollover.

Traffic jams were a problem throughout the day. A stalled 18-wheeler and four stalled passenger cars blocked an exit ramp on eastbound Interstate 70 near Lake of the Woods, causing a major backup. The westbound lane of I-70 in Boone County closed at 2:30 p.m.

“It’s just a mess right now,” Mastalski said.

The impassable roads throughout the area proved to be a challenge for medical emergency response crews. Mastalski said when roads leading to the site of a medical response were too dangerous to drive on, ambulances parked at a safe distance, and crews walked to the emergency.

“We haven’t been searching out alternate routes because all the roads are pretty much the same,” Mastalski said. “We don’t want any ambulances getting stuck.”

Mastalski said the Fire District increased their staff today in anticipation of the large storm.

“We prepared for more accidents than there were,” Mastalski said. “You have to think about the worst case.”

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