By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
Stranded motorists left emergency shelters in Tucumcari at 10 a.m., on Monday after the New Mexico Department of Transportation opened eastbound and westbound traffic on Interstate 40 out of Tucumcari.
The winter storm — named Goliath by the National Weather Service — dropped 8 to 10 inches of snow in and around Tucumcari resulting in hazardous road conditions that led to Interstate 40 being closed eastbound to the Texas state line and westbound to Albuquerque.
Caution is still advised as the roads are still snow packed and icy from the storm, said Yvonne Aragon, NMDOT spokesperson.
Aragon said the ice is expected to melt throughout the day as travel increases on the roads.
The Quay County Sheriff’s Office and Tucumcari Police Department had law enforcement personnel patrolling during the storm, helping motorists who were stuck in the snow.
Two emergency shelters were set up on Saturday due to the motels in Tucumcari being full. One was located at the First Baptist Church and second was set up at the Tucumcari Convention Center after the church filled up.
Volunteers served breakfast to motorists today before they departed.
“Everyone talks about southern hospitality, after meeting all of the wonderful people here at the shelter I can tell you Tucumcari does not take a back seat to anyone when it comes to hospitality,” said Paul Rozak, of Stratford, Wisconsin, who was caught by the storm as he was traveling through the area.
Rozak said he was traveling to Lake Havasu, Arizona and got caught in Tucumcari at the height of the storm. He said the motel he stopped at was full, but the clerk told him about the shelter at the convention center.
Rozak said he was relieved to hear about the shelter and appreciative as he had already resigned to finding an open spot in a parking lot and sleeping in his car.
“One could not of asked for more, a place to stay and friendly people,” Rozak said.
“This is the first time staying in a shelter in the 12 years we have traveled through Tucumcari on the way to Scottsdale, Arizona,” said Roger Frick, of Eden Prairie Minnesota.
Frick said he was travelling with his wife, Karen, and granddaughter, Robyn Ruggles. He said the road conditions were OK on U.S. Highway 54 as they traveled into Tucumcari but they found themselves stranded after I-40 was closed.
“The people here are so wonderful and took such good care of us,” said Karen Frick, adding that she thought the people at the shelter went out of their way to make everyone comfortable in such a chaotic time.
“I want to thank all of the agencies that coordinated to open the shelters for the stranded motorist,” said Curtis Simpson, Quay County emergency manager.
Simpson said the shelters at the First Baptist Church and Tucumcari Convention Center housed 146 people during the storm. He said the support from the staff from the county, City of Tucumcari, Tucumcari Fire Department, Rural 1 Fire Department and Tucumcari EMS as well as the residents who brought food for the people staying at the shelter made the shelters possible and a success.
“I really cannot say enough to thank all of those who came out to help at the shelter,” Simpson said.
The winter storm also affected power to rural residents in Quay County and thousands of residents in eastern New Mexico and western Texas, said Wes Reeves, Xcel Energy spokesperson.
Reeves said as of 9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning Xcel Energy had 221 customers without power across our Texas-New Mexico service area. He said work crews made good progress in Clovis overnight, and have reduced the number of customers without power to 23 inside the city, with another 49 in the rural areas.
Reeves said Xcel has crews working at all the remaining outage locations within Clovis. He said their is one damaged 10-mile long line near the Farwell, Texas, community east of Clovis that is inaccessible because of drifts reaching up to 12 feet.
Reeves said Xcel will initiate an aerial patrol to determine the exact location of the problem, and a crew is standing by to move in once the problem is identified. He said some of the remaining work in Texas consists of damaged poles identified on Monday outside of Levelland and Springlake-Earth, Texas.
Reeves said crews are onsite and working to replace those poles, but heavy snow is making the replacement difficult. He said there may be some customers who have sustained damage to their meter boxes, which are the property of the customer. He said Xcel will not be able to connect these customers until a licensed electrician has made repairs, followed by an inspection by the proper code enforcement agency in their area.
Reeves said Xcel is grateful for the hard work of their crews and for the patience of their customers who have endured hardship without power in their homes and businesses. He said crews have another hard day of work ahead of them, but he believe they are close to full restoration.