The storm was just so sudden, South Dakota cattle rancher Kathy Jobgen remembers.

A freezing rain, followed by an avalanche of four feet of snow and winds of 70 miles an hour, hit thousands of cattle still grazing on ?summer pastures? at a time when the animals had not yet grown their protective winter coats and were ill prepared for the harsh conditions.

Swirling snow lodged in some of the animals? lungs, suffocating them. Hypothermia killed more. And others were caught in gullies, or plunged off slickened rock ledges, livestock experts said.

?I?ve been in this business 50 years and I?ve never seen anything like this,? said Jobgen, who estimated her family lost nearly half of its herd of 350 when the storm swept through Oct. 3-5. ?The vision of seeing all these cattle dead is something you can?t wipe out of our eyes.?

South Dakota had the sixth-largest cattle herd in the United States with some 3.85 million head in January 2013, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Most of those are in the western part of the state, where the storm struck, leaving carcasses strewn on the Plains and hitting ranchers with tens of millions of dollars in losses.

Dustin Oedekoven, South Dakota state veterinarian, said reports to his office so far total about 3,300 head of cattle dead. But he estimates the number will eventually reach 20,000.

?It really is going to take a hit on the industry here,? Oedekoven said.

South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard on Friday issued an executive order allowing truckers carrying cattle carcasses in the state to exceed normal weight limits to help expedite removal of the dead animals.

?The weekend blizzard already has caused untold devastation,? the governor said in a statement. ?The number of livestock actually lost in the storm isn?t certain, but it will range in the thousands of head.? (Reuters)

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