Blizzard Paralyzes County, Area

Numerous Roads Blocked, Schools and Industries Forced to Close

By Jo Rector, City Editor

Kosciusko County Residents were "digging out" today following one of the worst mid-winter storms in recent years, blocking highways and forcing the closing of all city, county and area school and many industries.

Activities came to a near standstill Wednesday afternoon as winds of blizzard proportions gusting up to 50 miles per hour swept foot-high accumulations of snow off fields and lawns onto the highways.

Between 1:18 p.m. Wednesday, when the Kosciusko County Commissioners declared a civil emergency because of the blizzard, and by about midnight Kosciusko County Police had logged reports of 15 traffic accidents, many of them "chain reactions" involving more than two cars, that were attributed to the nasty driving conditions.

Commissioner Frederick Gilliam, in announcing the declared emergency, ordered county residents to stay off the highways for their own safety because county highway removal crews were unable to keep roads clear in the path of the swirling drifting frozen precipitation.

Commissioners asked that the county's emergency preparedness plan be put into action by county Civil Defense Director William Chapel, who mobilize leaders of volunteers and helped coordinate governmental units and crews to deal with the emergency.

Emergency Plan
Chapel said the emergency plan was to have county highway snowplows, directed by Superintendent Jack Mills and his assistant, Don Forney, disbursed throughout the county and standing by to make emergency runs to pave the way for ambulances or fire trucks if they were called to a drifted-in location.

City Street Superintendent Pat Ragan agreed to have his crews pulled off their all-night snow clearing operations to assist in similar emergencies outside the city limits.

Civil Defense personnel throughout the county assisted in making the plan work, Chapel said, adding, "Everybody is really cooperative, and that's what we need in a situation like this."

"For example, in North Webster the Civil Defense director set up cots in the town fire station to house stranded motorists who couldn't find a place to stay, and the Lakeland Snowmobile Club volunteered to go after people who were stranded on the roads," Chapel said.

Radio Role
He said county citizens band radio enthusiasts, led by Mrs. Maxine Wiley on Channel 9, the REACT emergency channel, were invaluable in directing rescue operations by four-wheel drive vehicles, snowmobiles and, when the snowmobiles couldn't get through, snowplows.

That county's KEMRAD members also were standing by with their communications gear and rescue equipment, and county Red Cross volunteers offered their assistance. Mrs. Wiley, in charge of the REACT operations on citizen's band radio, said she longed 30 calls for assistance in just one hour Wednesday between 2 and 3 p.m.

"We have units all over the county and in an emergency like this they turned their antennas to get the best coverage so they can relay messages from the main highways and county roads back to me in Warsaw," Mrs. Wiley said.

Relay, Dispatch
"Those of us in Warsaw then get the message to the police, or in the times that the police were really busy, we'll call wreckers on our own to go out and help the people who are stranded," she said, noting that the organization also dispatches snowmobiles and four-wheel drive vehicles when they are needed.

"We had one couple stuck in a snowdrift out on a county road for four hours, but we finally got to them and go them out. In the last snow storm we had a police car, a wrecker and another car all stuck at the same place at the same time," Mrs. Wiley added.

She said four-wheel drive vehicles were used Wednesday night to transport medical personnel to hospitals so they could report for work.

Dozens of motorists were stranded in snowdrifts and were rescued from the bitter cold by the county-wide network of volunteers, police, snowplow drivers and other motorists.

Those who made it home were lucky. Motels in Warsaw were rapidly filling up early in the evening with businessmen and motorists who adhered to the commissioner's request to stay off the roads because of their impassable condition.

City Police said that Murphy Medical Center officials offered overnight accommodations to persons who were stranded in the city without anyplace to stay.

Bus Comes Back
A school bus loaded with 22 Warsaw Community High School juniors and seniors in a mechanics class arrived home safely at about 9 p.m. Wednesday from a field trip in Indianapolis. Dr. Max Hobbs said the youths left early Wednesday morning on the field trip and started back to Warsaw at 4 p.m.

When they hadn't arrived here by 8 p.m., we called the police in Peru to try to stop the bus if it came through there and have them stay overnight in Peru because of the bad roads. At that time the Peru police told us that U. S. 31 north of Peru has been closed to traffic," Hobbs said.

The superintendent said he and other school officials, as well as the parents of the students were "very worried" about their safety in the blizzard and were relieved when the bus pulled into the city.

Hobbs said the bus got stuck once on State Rd. 15 year the Claypool overpass, but other than that and some slow traveling because of the blinding, blowing snow, made the return trip without incident.

Trucks Jackknife
County police said they received reports of four semi tractor and trailer rigs that were jackknifed on U. S. 30 between the Marshall County line and Warsaw.

Radio Dispatchers Gene Norton and Mel Byers, stationed at the county jail said the two telephones in the dispatch room "never stopped ringing for five hours solid." Late Wednesday afternoon. "We never even put the receiver in the cradle," they said.

Many of the callers were seeking information about road conditions, and what they heard was bad news from the police and on Radio Stations WRSW AM-FM, which posted frequent bulletins about the weather and road conditions.

Most of the county roads were virtually impassable by the time county highway crews gave up the futile battle with the elements about 8 p.m. Wednesday. At that time State Road 13 was closed south of Pierceton; State Rd. 5 was declared closed south of Ligonier by the Indiana State Police, and U.S. 30 east of Columbia City and many state and federal highways east of Fort Wayne also were socked in by the drifting snow.

Clear Main Roads
By 11 p.m. Indiana State Highway Department crews had opened State Rd. 15, which had drifted shut in many treacherous areas. The status of the highway, according to Indiana State Police, was passable with some areas only one-lane wide for traffic. Other parts of State Rd. 15 that were not drifted were slick in spots.

State Police announced that the highway crews had opened State Rd. 13 in "passable" two-lane condition. State Rd. 25 was passable, but only open to one lane of traffic. U.S. 30 through Kosciusko County was slick in spots but reasonably clear of snow. At 11 p.m. State Rd. 19 was declared closed and impassable north of Akron all the way to Nappanee.

Police said area wrecker services were doing a land-office business extracting stuck cars from ditches and snowdrifts and rearranging the jackknifed trucks, and a state highway snowplow had to be called out to scoop a path for the South Whitley Emergency Medical Service ambulance to reach injured victims of a traffic accident on State Rd. 5 south of South Whitley.

By press time today most state roads in Kosciusko County were reported by police as being "open and passable."

The exceptions were State Rd. 15 north of Leesburg, which had only one lane cleared and State Rd. 19, which still was closed at least as far south as Akron and as far north as Etna Green.

Main county roads were being plowed out this morning, but police reported that 75 per cent of the county highways were still closed at 10 a.m.

Bitter cold temperatures are forecast for today, and tonight the thermometer is expected to nosedive to 15 below zero.

Within the city of Warsaw there was little evidence of the latest storm's severity. Downtown and residential streets and parking lots were comparatively clear of drifting, thanks in a large part to city crew who worked through most of the night and early morning hours. Skies were clear here at mid-morning with the temperature rising from a low of 4 below zero at 6 through 8 a.m. to 1 above at 10 a.m.

Wayne Tombaugh, member of the Mentone Town Board, has asked Mentone residents to leave the water faucet run at night about the size of a pencil lead so lines will not freeze, until the weather changes. Bill will be pro-rated according to last year at same time.

Also, residents are asked to put trash in front at the street as sanitation service workers cannot get through alleys.

Northern and central Indiana areas were the hardest hit by Wednesday's storm which produced little new snow but caused extensive drifting as strong winds whipped old snow into a frenzy. Visibility was near zero in numerous places at the peak of the wind storm. Winds were measured at 25 to 30 miles per hour with gusts up to 40 m.p.h.

Lodging in Armories
Rensselaer and Marion opened their National Guard armories to house stranded motorists. Motels in various cities were packed with marooned guests sleeping in lobbies.

State police said that in addition to investigating hundreds of auto accidents, they were involved in assisting many motorists find lodgings for the night.

State police closed Interstate 65 in Lake County for a time Wednesday evening.

Many other northern Indiana roads were also closed and remained blocked as of this morning. U.S. 421 south of Indiana 10, Indiana 39 south of LaPorte and Indiana 23 north of North Liberty.

Central Indiana roads closed included Indiana 1 in Randolph and Jay counties, Indiana 3 in Randolph County, Indiana 9 in Madison and Grant counties; Indiana 28 between Elwood and Alexandria, and Indiana 37 north and south of Elwood.

County Roads Closed
Many county roads also were closed by the drifting snow, including those in White, Carroll and Cass counties.

U.S. 30 and 24 were closed for a time Wednesday in Allen County, and 30 cards were involved in a chain-reaction accident on Indiana 3 near Huntertown, while 20 others were piled up on Interstate 69 north of Fort Wayne.

The bad roads also forced the re-closing of many schools which had reopened following the winter storm earlier in the month that brought heavy snow to the state.

Meanwhile, Northern Indiana Public Service Co. Wednesday announced it was cutting natural gas supplies to its industrial customers, allowing them only a minimum of fuel. NIPSCO previously had only trimmed industrial users by 20 per cent.

The cutback by the state's largest natural gas company will add to the thousands of Hoosiers already laid off temporarily because of other gas curtailments to industry.

More snow was in the Indiana forecast for tonight and Friday, and another blast of Arctic air will send temperatures well below zero this weekend.

The National Weather Service said highs today would reach only the teens and 20s, then dip into the single digits to teens tonight. Highs Friday were forecast for the teens and 20s again.

But lows Saturday and Sunday morning may plunge to 10 to 15 below zero, then dip to around zero on Monday.

Drivers of this car and pickup truck were headed south on a side raod, approximately a mile east of County Rd. 100 East on the Armstrong Rd. when they could go no further. The raod was completely covered by mountains of drifting snow. The vehicles made it only about 300 feet south of the Armstrong Rd. (Photo by Walt Rogers)

Warsaw Times-Union Thursday January 27, 1977

Background & Graphic by Roxy's Grfx

Back to YesterYear in Print