Guardsmen Rescuing Travelers Stranded On Southern Indiana Highway - News, Weather & Sports

Guardsmen Rescuing Travelers Stranded On Southern Indiana Highway

(EVANSVILLE, Ind., December 23rd, 2004, 1 p.m.) -- National Guardsmen plucked scores of stranded travelers from their vehicles amid deep snow Thursday as semitrailers stuck on Interstate 64 brought motorists to a halt over a 25-mile stretch.

Abandoned cars, semis and SUVs were scattered along the highway, signs of how many travelers were forced to spend the night huddled in their vehicles as windchills outside dropped to near zero.

The situation on I-64 was the most serious caused by the winter storm that first started dropping snow across southern and central Indiana early Wednesday, leaving up to two feet of snow in a stretch from the Evansville area northeast toward Richmond.

Gov. Joe Kernan declared a disaster emergency for portions of the state and urged a delay in Christmas travel to allow time for roads to be cleared. Some 40 counties declared local snow emergencies, with many asking for people to avoid non-emergency travel.

The Indiana National Guard was bringing stranded motorists from I-64 to hotels in Evansville or the Red Cross offices in the city.

Staff Sgt. Randy Clark, a Guardsman helping to bring people to the Red Cross, said they had been transporting people since midnight and that some have been reluctant to leave their cars on the highway.

"When you've run out of fuel and you've got a small child, it's the best thing to do and we'll figure out the details later," he said. "You really don't have much of a choice when you run out of gas and you run out of heat. You're in a life-threatening situation."

Ken Sabatini, of Leawood, Kan., was stranded with his wife and two children on I-64 near Evansville on Thursday morning while on their way to Cincinnati for Christmas.

They spent more than 12 hours inside their car, periodically running the engine for heat, before joining dozens of others aboard a passenger bus.

"There's still tons of people here," Sabatini said. "We're in a Greyhound bus just to stay warm."

Traffic on I-64 was backed up by daybreak Thursday from near U.S. 41 north of Evansville to the Indiana-Illinois state line, police said. Two semitrailers caused the blockage on the highway starting at about 5 p.m. Wednesday when they were unable to get up a hill and rolled back. Other scattered sections of the highway also were closed.

Some people were shoveling paths across the median strip to make it to the westbound side of the highway, where they could hitch rides with moving vehicles, Sabatini said.

State officials planned a helicopter survey of I-64 to assess how best to get it reopened.

"We have no estimation when it will open at all," state Trooper Kevin Waters said of I-64. "It's a mess."

Meanwhile, at the other end of the state, the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan braced for its second lake-effect snowfall this week. The National Weather Service forecast as much of a foot of snow Thursday for the Michigan City area, where residents had spent days digging out from under 2 feet of snow that fell last weekend.

Evansville's snowfall of 19.3 inches Wednesday set the city's record for most snowfall in a single day, breaking the old record of 10.9 inches set on Feb. 25, 1993 -- and topping the city's average total winter snowfall of 14.2 inches.

Jessica Stevens, a state highway department spokeswoman, said 20 to 25 snow plows had become stuck in the southwest Indiana region.

"They're stranded just like other vehicles at this point," Stevens said. "Even our plows get defeated."

James Hartley, of Florence, Ky., said he was on his way to Evansville for some medical tests when his minivan got stuck in a snowdrift on an exit ramp around midnight. He stayed warm by running his heater every 30 minutes.

"Warmth isn't the problem," Hartley said. "It's just the mobility and not knowing when they'll clear off everything so I can get out of here."

A blowing snow advisory was issued Thursday morning by the weather service, as the blowing snow was expected to reduce visibility and cause drifts of several feet.

"Ramps have such high snowdrifts on them, you can't get on the interstate and you get off of it ... you can't move," state police Trooper Toni Walden said.

Temperatures Thursday were forecast for the mid teens, with wind chills around zero. By Thursday night, temperatures will fall near zero. On Saturday morning, they could plunge to 10 below zero.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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