By Times-Union Staff Writers
Heating oil and propane gas company crews were on the move early today to replenish tanks in homes that were out or running low on heating fuel, and natural gas customers in the county were setting their thermostats back to conserve fuel as the county's worst winter storm in history wore into its third chilly day.
Winds continue this morning at velocities between 10 and 25 miles per hours out of the north west, and temperatures in downtown Warsaw had dipped to 14 below zero by noon Friday. At press time today The Times-Union's thermometer registered a slightly warmer eight degrees below zero.
Although the county was not nipped by temperatures as low as 25 below last night, as the National Weather Service had predicted, the bitter cold, coupled with strong winds, took its toll on energy supplies, vehicles and people.
According to Dr. Virgil A. McCleary, who was manning the county Civil Defense emergency command post in the City Building this morning, a Milford woman's hands were frozen yesterday, and she required treatment at Goshen General Hospital.
Life and Death
City Councilman Jack Burns assisting McCleary in the command post said reports of a Rochester man who suffered severe frostbite and was being treated in intensive care at the area hospital had also reached the command post.
The man apparently was out in the sub-zero temperatures for only 40 minutes after he experienced vehicle trouble.
"People just don't realize how dangerous it is for them to be outside in this kind of weather," optometrist McCleary said. "People shouldn't go out at their own risk; they have to realize that it's a matter of life and death out there."
Volunteers with snowmobiles and four-wheel drive vehicles were taking that life and death risk all day Friday and again this morning to help families who were out of fuel and food and to transport nurses and top priority medical personnel to hospitals and nursing homes.
About 120 persons responded to calls for volunteers yesterday. They included 55 who offered to rescue storm victims in their four-wheel drive vehicles and men and women who offered 53 snowmobiles for similar operations.
Others volunteered to donate their own manpower, medical supplies, tractors, bulldozers and backhoes to the Civil Defense effort.
Joe Mendenhall at Walter's Drug Store in downtown Warsaw offered today to provide food for volunteers who are working in the area to aid storm victims.
Shelters for storm victims were offered by the First Brethren Church of Warsaw, Warsaw Nursing Home and Counting House Bank and cots were made ready for storm use by the Chicago Boys Club, Winona Lake.
The command post received calls for assistance with home heating problems from more than half a dozen families and there were two requests this morning for food to homes with babies.
At 9 p.m. Friday the command post learned that Carl Griffith, 54 who lives at County Roads 450 West and 250 East had suffered a heart attack and needed ambulance transportation to a hospital.
The Titus ambulance was dispatched and ordered to follow two snowplows to Griffith's home, and by 9:45 p.m. the vehicles had arrived and Griffith was enroute to the hospital.
Another snowplow escort was dispatched at 10:26 to preceed the North Webster Emergency Medical Service ambulance on a run over the drifted and hazardous roads.
Six medical staff members were brought into the city this morning by volunteers in four-wheel drive vehicles, but two nurses who live near Sidney were still stranded in their homes at press time because State Road 13 in that area was entirely closed to traffic.
A dozen Kosciusko County Highway Dept. crewmen slept overnight in the highway garage on Old Rd. 30 so they would be immediately at hand if weather conditions improved and could begin digging out main county roads.
Indiana National Guardsmen arrived from South Bend Friday afternoon with two large truck to help with rescue operations.
Earlier in the day Civil Defense Director William Chapel had issued a request to Gov. Otis Bowen for Guard assistance in digging out roads and helping with emergency runs in the county during the blizzard emergency.
Two trucks and drivers were promised from the National Guard unit in South Bend to work with volunteers in Kosciusko County. Arrival of the trucks was delayed due to difficulties in getting equipment started in the South Bend area.
The same problem arose this morning at the local Armory, and a city truck was sent to help start the trucks.
The National Guard Armory north of Warsaw was made available to the county civil defense in case it was necessary to provide a number of persons with shelter during the bitter cold, and numerous calls were received at the command post concerning homes being without heat.
Treated At Hospital
Four persons were treated at Kosciusko County Hospital after being overcome by fumes at their mobile home. Two of the four were admitted to the hospital and the other two were referred to the county Red Cross to find a place to spend the night.
Problems arose in attempts to reach homes without heat in the Packerton area. In one attempt to get through to the area, Chapel reported that five vehicles, including snowplows and two snowmobiles, had become stranded in the snow.
Before 11:30 a.m. Friday, all roads in Kosciusko and Elkhart counties were declared closed along with Interstate 69, which connects with U.S. 30 in Allen County. Civil defense workers urged persons to stay off the roads and not try to go anywhere during the emergency.
On some county roads drifts were reported at five to six feet deep and more than a mile in length. State Rd. 15 North was reported to have drifts two feet in depth.
Declare Martial Law
In White County, also hit hard by drifting snow, county authorities declared martial law in an attempt to keep persons from venturing on the dangerous roads. According to UPI, the White county officials rescinded the order upon learning they did not have the authority to issue it. The authorities then declared a snow emergency and gave the sheriff authority to arrest motorists driving on posted roads.
At 11:35 a.m. Friday wind gusts in Warsaw had dropped off to 20 miles per hour from earlier blasts of 30 m.p.h. but were expected to increase again to 50 m.p.h. by afternoon.
Syracuse Town Marshal Ron Robinson issued two telephone numbers for use by persons in the Syracuse area who are in need of a warm place to stay. Robinson told the civil defense workers that persons who are without heat in the Syracuse area should call either 457-3366 or 457-4100.
Robinson said officials in Syracuse were preparing to open the Syracuse Elementary School for sheltering persons in need if weather conditions continue to worsen.
Log Tandem Volunteers
"We're learning as we go along," Chapel commented. "After what happened to Fred (Gilliam) and the sheriff this morning, we have started logging out volunteers as to the time they leave and their route." The crews, including snowmobiles, were also being sent out in pairs in the event one got stuck and needed help.
The precautionary measures were undertaken to help protect the volunteers who might become stranded in the bitter cold after County Commissioner Fred Gilliam and Sheriff John Hammersley because stranded between Milfored and Warsaw.
The two men had left the command post about 8:30 a.m. Friday in Gilliam's four-wheel drive vehicle, equipped with a snow blade, and had not returned by 11:30 a.m.
The duo had lodged the vehicle in a snowdrift on their way to Milford and were unable to raise anyone on their two-way radio. For several hours no one at the command post knew where the men were.
Apparently, snow had gotten in the air cleaner of the vehicle causing it to stall. After a state police trooper helped get the motor running again, Gilliam said later, the vehicle traveled about 10 feet and died.
Finally the vehicle had to be towed back to Warsaw.
In a continuing effort to keep persons off the roads, Chapel told Radio Stations WRSW AM-FM that "if you get stuck out in this weather you could freeze rapidly."
He added that because of the continually worsening weather conditions, rescue volunteers are becoming increasing unable to traverse dangerous roads and highways.
Hospitals were advised by Chapel to have nurses and staff members who were on duty remain at the hospitals overnight because volunteers were in some cases unable to reach nurses and other medical staff and transport them to work if they lived outside the city limits.
Murphy Medical Center offered to open one entire floor of its downtown hospital facility to individuals who needed a warm place to stay during the night. Food also was available at Murphy.
Most city restaurants were closed all night Friday, but short orders were available at Breading's Cigar Store, Walter's Drug Store and the Humpty Dumpty.
Families made beelines to grocery stores, which closed early Friday evening, to pick up food so they could cook at home, an many stores were rationing leaves of bread because commercial bakeries that supply the stores were forced to shut down Thursday. Baking stopped because the supply of natural gas to the ovens was curtailed by Northern Indiana Public Service Co.
There also were runs on warm snowsuits, gloves and mittens at local stores that remained open for part of the day Friday.
In addition to emergency messages received at the county civil defense command post, local police agencies were swamped with requests for assistance and road condition advisories.
Kosciusko County Police received reports of 11 stalled vehicles between 6 and 11:30 a.m. Friday.
Emergencies seemed to occur less frequently in the afternoon, but county police received a report of an 18-wheel vehicle carrying 25 head of cattle, which could quickly freeze in the bitter cold, stalled near Claypool.
A resident of Green Acres Mobile Home Court in Warsaw requested county police to assist in moving his family from the mobile home. The mobile home had been moved into the court about a month and a half ago, but had not been tied down. The frigid, high winds caused the trailer to sway Thursday evening and almost flip over. Aided by emergency volunteers, the family was moved shortly after seeking help.
AT 12:10 p.m. the county police announced that all north-south roads were closed, with snowdrifts of two and one-half to three feet deep on Old Rd. 30 reported at noon.
Feeding and watering livestock also became a problem with the freezing temperatures, and one man reported at 12:25 p.m. that he needed to reach his farm, as his pigs and sows didn't have heat.
A man living at Merrywood Mobile Home Park asked county police if roads were open to Goshen because his pregnant wife was in labor and wanted to reach Goshen Memorial Hospital. He was told by police to take his wife to either Kosciusko Community Hospital or Murphy Medical Center for delivery of the baby.
At 1:25 p.m. a woman called in asking for assistance to take fuel oil to her residence at Dewart Lake. An emergency volunteer was called to make the delivery.
During the early afternoon two persons were reported missing by relatives of the individuals, and at 2:05 p.m. it was announced that the Etna Green Community Center was opening to anyone in the area needing emergency indoor facilities.
Radio Stations WRSW AM-FM continues today to broadcast emergency storm bulletins and announce closings of industries and businesses. Virtually nothing but drug and grocery stores and some filling stations were opening today, and in smaller county towns it was reported that supplies of food on the grocery store shelves were dwindling since regular deliveries from suppliers could not be made. There are no rural mail deliveries due to impassable roads.
Delivery of The Times-Union to points other than vendors and stores in Warsaw was suspended, according to Circulation Manager Michael Case. He said motor route drivers could not possibly traverse the drifted and dangerous roads, and he added that in-city newspaper deliveries by carriers on foot were being left up to the discretion of the young carriers and their parents.
"We intend to hold all out-of-city copies of The Times-Union at our warehouse until weather conditions permit our motor route drivers to resume regular deliveries," Case said. "At that time the editions that we have not been able to deliver will be stuffed in the current edition for all of our regular subscribers."
Case said the Friday edition carrying reports of the storm and the community's response to it were "selling like hot cakes" from vendors and on newsstands in Warsaw Friday.
AREA IS A WINDY WINTER WASTELAND
Many parts of Kosciusko County, including the Country Club Drive area, are inaccessible by almost all types of vehicles as the savage winter of 1977 continues to rampage across the midwest. Roads have been closed to traffic throughout the county and residents have been warned to stay in their homes as the temperature remained below zero throughout the morning. Wind chill readings dipped into the minus 40s endangering the lives of those venturing outside for any length of time.