White roads, white knuckles

Accidents abound and winter storm slickens roads

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Tony Papetti, with A&J Towing, secures one of nine vehicles involved in four wrecks Wednesday near the Highway 41 exit in the westbound lanes of Interstate-90.

Emergency vehicles were spread thin and traffic was halted for miles across Kootenai County on Wednesday as a blizzard caused a slew of slide-offs and crashes.

"It's severe winter conditions. The roads are really slick," said Natalie Allred, Idaho State Police spokeswoman, on late Wednesday afternoon.

Snow fell all day and accumulated fast in the afternoon, making roads slick and reducing visibility.

A total of 6.8 inches fell between early morning and 5:30 p.m. in Coeur d'Alene, a record for the date, said climatologist Cliff Harris.

"Between 1 and 2:30 (p.m.) it was snowing at the rate of 2 inches an hour," Harris said. "It just came down about as hard as it can snow."

In the afternoon, accidents had traffic at a standstill for hours on westbound Seltice Way from Government Way in Coeur d'Alene to Highway 41 in Post Falls.

Westbound traffic on Interstate 90 was meanwhile backed up from east of the Northwest Boulevard exit to the Highway 41 exit.

Allred counted several accidents ISP was attending to that afternoon at multiple spots on U.S. 95, I-90 and Highway 41.

More were being called in.

Allred didn't know any details of the crashes, she said.

"They're just going from crash to crash to crash," she said.

Standing by a semi truck involved in a multi-car crash on I-90 by Exit 7, state trooper Jerry Stemm said there had been at least nine vehicles in four separate crashes by the exit at the same time that afternoon.

Amber Ackerman stood nearby, ankle deep in snow as she watched a tow truck load her battered '92 Nissan Stanza.

The 19-year-old's drive to work had been going fine, she said, until the car in front of her braked suddenly.

She slammed on her own brakes, then slid and stopped just in time for a semi truck to ram the front of her vehicle.

The uninsured Coeur d'Alene girl wasn't injured, she said.

"Just in shock," she said.

Spokespeople for the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department and the Coeur d'Alene Police couldn't be reached on Wednesday.

Snow will continue falling through today and possibly on Friday, Harris said.

Temperatures will plunge into the sub-zero range over the weekend, he added.

"That will continue into Monday and Tuesday, and we could pick up another six inches of snow," he said. "March could come in like a lion, but February isn't done yet."

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