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GREAT FALLS - An ice storm in central Montana forced the temporary closure of the airport in Great Falls on Monday and led to several vehicle crashes.

An overnight freezing rain storm left a sheet of ice Monday morning, keeping planes at their gates until about 3 p.m. The Great Falls Transit District also suspended its bus service Monday morning, telling drivers to stop where they were until the streets become safer.

Jim Helgeson, system general manager for the GFTD, said Monday's storm marked the first time the transit district shut down its buses because of bad weather.

"It just became a safety issue," he said, adding that he would evaluate the road situation at 5 a.m. today to determine if the buses can get back on the road.

The Montana Department of Transporation warned motorists that driving conditions on area highways were treacherous because of the ice cover and later fog. Interstate 15 from outside Conrad north to the Canadian border had scattered ice cover.

Meanwhile, the Montana Highway Patrol said troopers responded to about 30 crashes as of 7 p.m. Monday. No serious injuries were reported.

But Karen Ogden, a spokeswoman for Benefis Health System, said more than 70 people came into the hospital between midnight and 3:30 p.m. because of falls or slips on the ice.

Forecasters say dangerous driving conditions are expected to continue today, which will see dense fog and light freezing rain. Several inches of snow are expected today and Wednesday.

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