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Snowy roads cleared after 'huge relief effort'

Story Highlights

• NEW: New Mexico roads are clear, state officials said
• NEW: Gov. Bill Richardson declared state of emergency
• Gov. said Sunday traffic jam stretched "a few miles," not 25
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ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (CNN) -- New Mexico's highways were cleared Monday, a day after ice and snow had closed a section of Interstate 40 east of Albuquerque, a state spokesman said.

"Everything's open here now," said Pahl Shipley, a spokesman for Gov. Bill Richardson.

He said New Mexico authorities had mobilized "a huge relief effort" and that Richardson had declared a state of disaster in order to free state funds to help. (Snow on the Plainsexternal link)

Shipley cited "everything from state police checking every vehicle on the road ... to trucking gas and food to stranded motorists to the National Guard moving things around."

By late Sunday night, the major arteries had reopened, he said.

The roads had been closed by a slow-moving storm that dumped heavy snow on long stretches of highway, including I-40 from Albuquerque to Tucumcari and U.S. Highway 550 between Bernalillo and Bloomfield, state officials said.

Carrie Moritomo, a spokeswoman for the Office of Emergency Management, said traffic was backed up along I-40 for 25 miles.

Shipley disputed that, saying it was no more than "a few miles."

Motorists were able to get off the highway and eat or check into hotels and wait out the closures, he said.

But apparently not all motorists were able to get off the highway.

Trucker Jessie Pierson, from Wichita, Kansas, was hauling a load of hay to Texas when he wound up stranded for 5 1/2 hours Saturday by closed roads.

"Then we were able to move about 12 miles in one hour, and the roads were closed again," Pierson said Sunday afternoon. "We couldn't move again until 11 this morning."

Pierson said snow plows on roads passing a truck stop in Clines Corner, New Mexico, where he and his girlfriend had sought shelter, "just piled the snow up so none of us could get out.

"The state wouldn't get out and help anybody and there was no National Guard to be seen anywhere we've been," Pierson said.

"People were getting out and helping each other -- we couldn't count on the government for any help."

Icy roads caused a massive traffic jam in Albuquerque, New Mexico, over the weekend but roads were cleared by Monday.



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