March 16, 2011

Spring storm strands motorists

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

High winds and snow left many McKenzie County travelers stranded either in a town or on the highway on Friday.
“There was a no travel advisory for the area, but because the storm got bad so fast, many people were caught off guard,” says Ron Rankin, McKenzie County sheriff. “At one point, all highways leaving Watford City were blocked due to accidents.”
The Sheriff’s Department is not allowed to close roadways due to weather, but because of multi-vehicle accidents they were forced to stop traffic so accidents could be cleared from the road.
“We had two multi-vehicle accidents at about the same time, one on each side of Arnegard and three multi-vehicle accidents around the Mandaree turn,” adds Rankin. “The accidents left roadways partially blocked, and due to zero visibility, we were forced to close the roads and leave motorists lined up for three to four hours while we waited for wreckers to clear the roadways.”
According to Rankin, while it was a wild day for accidents, there were no fatalities and no serious injuries that he knows of.
“We are fortunate to have had no fatalities,” comments Rankin. “We are still getting accident reports in today from people who just exchanged information and continued on their way. But I know that there were at least seven multi-vehicle accidents that involved three or more vehicles.”
In addition to accidents, some motorists were simply stranded by the snow.
“The road from Johnson Corners to Keene was blocked by snowdrifts,” adds Rankin. “We had accident calls coming in from the Keene area that we couldn’t even get to.”
For most stranded motorists, as long as they stay with their vehicle, they will be okay for at least a few hours. But according to Rankin, the department had a call from one stranded motorist that needed to be rescued.
“We received a call from a woman who was eight months pregnant and stranded with her two-year-old,” states Rankin. “She thought she was between Watford City and Arnegard, but because of the visibility she wasn’t exactly sure where she was. At the time of the call there were four officers west of Watford City so we all set out looking for her. Thankfully, they were found and taken to Watford City without incident.”
For those travelers that were stranded, the Watford City Civic Center opened as a shelter offering food and warmth while people waited out the storm. According to Rankin, the Keene Dome in Keene did the same for travelers stranded in that area.
The Keene Dome was able to provide food to those stranded because they had planned a luncheon for after David Nelson’s funeral, but because of the blizzard, many of those expected were stranded at the church.
“The blizzard started sometime during the service,” says Rob Favorite, Keene First Lutheran Church pastor. “We decided to postpone the burial and some people headed to the Keene Dome for the luncheon. Some of them made it and others turned back. We ended up with about 55 people from the funeral stranded at the church, plus some oil workers who stopped.”
Although the church was not prepared for an overnight adventure, those involved and some neighbors made it work.
“We had a few bits of food around the church and then when night began to fall and we were still there, some of the ladies took some mashed potato flakes and baked beans and made a soup,” says Favorite. “Then later, Kelly Norby, who lives close by, brought some provisions by on a snowmobile and Beau Wisness brought some pizzas over. So thankfully, we had enough food.”
Favorite and a group of people attempted to leave the church around 10 p.m., but were not able to get out, so they got quilts and many of the group spent the night sleeping on the church pews.
“Around 2 a.m., the plow came through and some people left. The rest of us woke in the morning and left after having coffee. It was quite an adventure. A day we won’t soon forget.”
Friday’s storm led to a day that many people throughout North Dakota will remember for a long time, but thankfully, the storm didn’t last too long.
“It was a bad storm and we were stretched to the max, but in the end, it worked out,” adds Rankin. “I just hope it is the last storm of the winter.”