Snoqualmie Pass reopens after several-hour closure

SNOQUALMIE PASS, Wash. - Snoqualmie Pass has reopened after a several-hour closure Monday due to heavy snow and threat of avalanches.

More than 70 miles of the freeway were closed from North Bend on the west side of the mountains to Ellensburg on the east side. The highway reopened just after 4:30 p.m. Monday.

Near blizzard conditions forced avalanche control work Sunday and Monday morning along I-90, and state transportation officials say the threat of sliding snow and falling trees made it too dangerous for anyone to be on the highway through Snoqualmie Pass.

"We had one tree that actually fell across all three westbound lanes and that's when we closed it down," said WSDOT supervisor Don Whitehouse.

About 12-15 inches of heavy, wet snow forced I-90 to its knees. Just beyond the roadblack, DOT crews began removing what appeared to be an imminent threat.

"An area actually several hundred yards long and we dropped about 50 trees that were leaning," Whitehouse said.

Avalanches posed the other major hazard. Heavy snowfall triggered a midnight slide that blocked the entire road -- a wall of snow 12 feet high and 50 feet wide. Driving conditions were horrible.

"Combination of the rain and the fog on the roads, you couldn't see the lines," said Mick Rivera.

Amanda Zaragoza and her family were forced to find hotel rooms for the night when their journey back to Wenatchee seemed to dangerous to continue.

"A lot of people were just swerving, there was no guidance, no lights on the highway, it was pretty scary," she said.

The storm trapped many travelers. State patrol troopers had to escort about two dozen vehicles down the mountain early Monday afternoon -- all people forced to spend the night up top when the pass closed.

"Folks were very excited to be heading back down the mountain," said Sgt. Bryan DuCommun with the State Patrol. "Some were staying in the hotels, cabins things like that, so they were anxious to go westbound."

For the truckers who are among the 8,000 rigs that cross the pass every day, long closures are especially costly.

Adam crouch feels like he's spending more money than he's earning.

"I've already spent $50 on a dog bone, a pack of cigarettes and I haven't even sat down to eat yet," he said.

The DOT warned that additional pass closures were possible Monday evening and night for avalanche control.