MINNEAPOLIS — Hundreds of snowbound motorists spent the night in their cars, on farms and in National Guard armories when a blizzard clogged major roads for nearly 24 hours in southwestern Minnesota, authorities said Monday.
"We had numerous people, a hundred would not be stretching it, who spent the night away from home on farms, in addition to the people who got to town and stayed there," said Les Muck, a State Patrol dispatcher in Marshall.
Less than an inch of snow fell, but winds blowing up to 45 m.p.h. picked up more than a foot of snow cover from the ground late Sunday. The blowing snow cut visibility to zero and piled up in drifts to 7 feet high, Muck said.
100 Miles of Road Closed
The State Patrol closed about a 100-mile stretch of Interstate 90 from the South Dakota border to 10 miles east of Jackson and did not reopen it until late Monday, Muck said. Several other highways and county roads also were closed, he said.
There were numerous multi-vehicle accidents with injuries, but no fatalities were reported, he said.
Elsewhere, snow blown by wind gusting to 60 m.p.h. cut visibility and forced Wyoming police to close a 99-mile stretch of Interstate 80 between Cheyenne and Laramie for about 4 hours Monday.
More than 300 motorists sought shelter in Minnesota National Guard armories in Worthington, Redwood Falls and Jackson, Muck said.
The Worthington armory had travelers from as far away as Tennessee, said National Guard 1st Sgt. Ron Balster.
Food, Shelter Provided
"We got 200 furniture blankets from U-Haul," Balster said. "We got paper towels from Campbell Soup. And people have brought in all kinds of food. There are sandwiches, chicken. One person just brought in 2 gallons of milk."
"We had 12 cars up here at one time fighting to get in the door for one room," said Lucille Thorn, manager of the Oxford Motel in Worthington.
Many people spent the night in motel lobbies and meeting rooms.
Tim and Julie Burns of Luverne and their three children were among those stranded on Interstate 90 for hours before reaching the armory in Jackson.
Julie Burns said traffic came to a standstill in near-zero visibility Sunday afternoon about 10 miles east of Worthington. And depleted car fuel posed another dilemma.
"We were on empty and I was really nervous about that and I told my husband we had to get to another car," she said.
A couple from St. Paul offered them shelter in their car, "so the five of us sat in the back of their car for almost 9 hours, just keeping warm," Julie Burns said. "They had a full tank."
Temperatures in the area were in the single digits and zero to minus 10 overnight with a windchill of 20 to 40 below, the National Weather Service said.
Finally, plows were able to clear the opposite side of the highway.
"Around 1 a.m., we saw cars going in the opposite direction and one of them stopped," she said. "It was two guys from Sioux City (Iowa) . . . and they said they'd take us to Jackson. And, with our kids, we wanted to get out of the car and to the armory in Jackson where we had some space."
The family got to the armory around 3 a.m.
The low visibility and high drifts kept plows and rescue vehicles off many roads until early Monday, said Lorren Simon, another State Patrol dispatcher in Marshall.