Published Saturday

February 10, 2001 

Snowstorm Strands Motorists


Once Kelly Jorgensen is able to resume her trip east, she won't take fond memories of the Midlands with her. 
click to enlarge  
Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Gail Schwab directs southbound traffic on Interstate 29 to exit at Highway 34 due to white-out conditions Friday.

In the middle of her move from Bremerton, Wash., to Virginia Beach, Va., Jorgensen was driving Friday on ice-covered Interstate 80 in blustery conditions with "speeding truckers." 

As she drove cautiously through western Iowa, Jorgensen discovered the effect a snowstorm has on motorists in the Midwest. 

"There's tons of semis and cars flipped over," she said. "It's like a parking lot." 

Despite her caution, Jorgensen's car helped fill that parking lot, as she lost control on an icy patch near Stuart and slid into a ditch at about 12:30 p.m. Iowa State Patrol troopers found her and several other stranded motorists nearby and drove them to the Super 8 Motel in Stuart. 

There, Jorgensen passed the time Friday evening playing cards with others who had met the same fate. 

Jorgensen said she checked into one of the last rooms available. The motel was full hours later. 

Many hotels and motels along I-80 filled with out-of-towners or local residents who chose not to risk driving home as the two-day storm brought rain, sleet and snow that made roads impassable. Super 8 motels in Adair and Walnut neared capacity Friday night. 

The large winter storm, which began as freezing rain Thursday night and followed up with as much as 12 inches of snow in some areas also caused power outages across the state. 

In western Iowa, power was out for as many as 15,000 MidAmerican Energy customers at various times on Friday. Most severely affected were Montgomery, Fremont and Mills Counties. 

A number of shelters were set up to help people escape the cold. About 60 people in Red Oak took shelter at the Iowa National Guard Armory and Montgomery County Memorial Hospital. 

Alliant Energy reported that about 10,000 customers lost power for at least part of the day in several eastern and central Iowa towns because of ice on electrical lines. 

As of late Friday, as many as 3,000 homes and businesses in Iowa were still without power as temperatures were expected to fall near zero overnight. 

Temperatures in western Iowa were expected to remain bitterly cold today, with highs in the teens. Forecasters call for a chance of light snow Sunday and highs in the upper 20s. 

On Friday, poor driving conditions, numerous accidents and stranded motorists led the Iowa State Patrol to close I-80 from Omaha to Des Moines and Interstate 29 from Council Bluffs to the Missouri state line shortly after 1 p.m., said State Patrol Sgt. Robert Hansen. 

State Patrol troopers and personnel with the Iowa National Guard and Iowa Department of Transportation assisted in a search for stranded motorists, who were taken to hotels, community shelters or churches, he said. By about 7:30 p.m., all roads had reopened. 

"The visibility has improved, the wind has died down and we were able to get out and clean up accidents that blocked the road," he said. Hansen said extra manpower would continue to be used as needed throughout the night. 

He said cars and trucks in the ditch would not be towed until road conditions and the weather improved. 

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack on Friday declared Highway 6 east of Council Bluffs a disaster area, and the road was closed shortly after noon. The declaration allows the state to obtain additional assistance in clearing the road and helping stranded motorists, said Steve Mefford, area maintenance manager for the Iowa Department of Transportation. 

"It's a mess out here," Mefford said. 

I-29 south from Council Bluffs to the Missouri border was closed for several hours. Two accidents occurred on I-29 shortly before 11:30 Friday morning - about an hour before the decision was made to close the Interstate. 

In one of those, an Iowa State Patrol cruiser was hit, but the officer was not injured. Another trooper, who was working accidents on I-29, had to be taken to an area hospital for possible frostbite. 

Nearly 50 semitrailer trucks, cars and recreational vehicles were reported in the ditch along I-29 from Kansas City to Council Bluffs on Friday afternoon. 

The roads were too bad for Evelyn Wissler of Des Moines, who started the day in Missouri Valley, Iowa, and was headed home on I-80. 

Wissler and her husband were forced to wait out the storm in Malvern. They spent a couple of hours hanging out at Casey's General Store before wandering downtown to Collins Drug Company. Wissler claimed she told her husband they should've stayed in Missouri Valley. 

"I told him we could be a nice warm hotel," Wissler said "Oh well, it could be worse." 

Malvern residents said it was the worst storm to hit the area in at least the last two years. Blowing snow made driving down main street a treacherous adventure. 

William's Main Street Market reported a run on groceries and movies, although with thigh-high drifts forming outside, Marilyn Hexom conceded that some movies might not make it back by this afternoon's deadline. 

"I guess I can't charge a late fee if they can't make it to town," Hexom said. 

World-Herald staff writers Joe Kolman and Victor Epstein contributed to this story, which also includes material from the Associated Press.