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Strong wind, freezing rain, snow hamper North Dakota drivers; 1 crash includes 3 fatalities


BISMARCK, North Dakota — Freezing rain and snow passing accompanied by strong winds shut down some North Dakota highways, put school buses in the ditch and led to a triple-fatal crash.

The system that began Wednesday was moving out of the state Thursday, but not before freshly fallen snow and wind gusts in excess of 40 mph greeted morning commuters in eastern North Dakota. The National Weather Service issued wind advisories and warnings for much of the state.

"There is some visibility reduction — the lowest ones are about a mile," weather service meteorologist Brad Hopkins in Grand Forks told The Associated Press.

Slick roads also hampered drivers. Grand Forks police said they responded to nearly two dozen vehicle crashes Thursday morning, most of them minor.

The Highway Patrol banned oversized vehicles such as trucks hauling mobile homes from traveling due to the wind, but lifted those restrictions on Thursday afternoon, Capt. Eldon Mehrer said.

"We don't do this very often," he said. "Our main focus when we do is traffic safety."

Drivers who violate the restriction could be fined $100 and lose their permit, Mehrer said.

The patrol also encouraged drivers of high-profile and long-load vehicles — such as buses, panel trucks, motor homes and regular-size semitrailers — to be aware of the gusty conditions.

A strong gust blew over a semitrailer near Jamestown on Wednesday, but the driver wasn't hurt, according to the patrol.

The city of Fargo closed its landfill Thursday, citing "extreme wind" that made it impossible to properly contain garbage from trucks.

State Transportation Department officials reopened state Highways 20 and 57 from Camp Grafton to Fort Totten shortly before dawn on Thursday. The road was closed late Wednesday due to ice caused by strong winds washing waves from Devils Lake onto the roadway.

The worst of the weather came Wednesday as a system that developed in the central Plains merged with a system coming out of Canada to create the hazardous conditions, including wind gusts exceeding 60 mph.

Icy roads contributed to a Wednesday morning sport utility vehicle rollover on U.S. Highway 83 near Wilton that killed three males, according to the Highway Patrol. Authorities identified the victims as: Manual Valenzuela, 44, of Mandan; Christopher Williams, 43, of Bismarck; and Robert Moore, 54, of Bismarck.

School buses went in the ditch near the north central North Dakota towns of Antler and Sherwood on Wednesday, KXMC-TV reported. One driver and one student were taken to a Minot hospital with injuries not believed to be serious.

Minot police said wind and snow contributed to a head-on crash Wednesday on the U.S. Highway 2-52 Bypass that sent two people to the hospital, including one with critical head injuries.

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