Authorities continue rescuing motorists and look to clear roadways as second blizzard bears down
FARGO - After a night of dramatic rescues in a blinding blizzard, authorities in Cass and Clay counties took to the highways this morning to continue to check stranded cars for motorists. Visibility had improved, but temperatures dropped below zero as round two of the storm approached.
Cass County sent a snowplow to Mapleton to lead a caravan of people who had spent the night at the Mapleton Community Center back to Fargo and West Fargo, Cass County Chief Deputy Jim Thoreson said.
The caravan included 36 people, six dogs, 13 cars and two semis, he said. Most were stranded motorists who had tried to use County Road 10 after Interstate 94 was closed but were turned back and sent to Mapleton, Thoreson.
One stranded motorist who spent the night at the Harwood Community Center had already left this morning, Cass County Emergency Manager Dave Rogness said.
Rogness said there were 12 semis, two trucks and four cars still stuck at the site of an I-94 pileup Thursday involving at least 25 vehicles between Mapleton and West Fargo. The vehicles will be towed - or driven if possible - to a central location for owners to claim them, he said.
Interstates 94 and 29 will not reopen today in southeastern North Dakota, as crews continue to search for stranded motorists and try to remove more than a dozen semis and other vehicles involved in a pileup on I-94 Thursday, a state official says.
Authorities are working with towing companies to try to clear the semis and vehicles from the I-94 crash site before a second blizzard hits the area this afternoon, said Bruce Nord, maintenance engineer for the state Department of Transportation's southeast district.
Even if they're successful, I-94 and I-29 in North Dakota will remain closed because of the second blizzard, Nord said.
In Minnesota, I-94 from Moorhead to Alexandria reopened at 10:30 a.m., as did Highway 10 between Moorhead and Detroit Lakes.
"Current driving conditions in west central Minnesota are still extremely difficult," Minnesota Trooper Jesse Grabow said in a statement. "Blowing and drifting snow and icy areas continue to cause reduced visibility and dangerous driving conditions. Motorists still need to use extreme caution when traveling throughout west central Minnesota."
While roads re-opened, travel was expected to be difficult. Grabow said road conditions are expected to deteriorate, forcing highway closures again.
Snowplows had to help an ambulance make an emergency run from Valley City, N.D., to Fargo at 6:20 a.m. today, Nord said. The trip, which normally takes about an hour, took three hours, he said.
Highway Patrol troopers were out this morning following snowplows to check on stranded vehicles and make sure no one is inside, Nord said.
A crew Thursday night picked up about a dozen stranded motorists on Highway 46 by Kindred, N.D., leaving Fargo at about 7:30 p.m. and returning at 2 a.m., Nord said.
Rescuers also found a man and his dog stranded on I-29 near Galchutt, N.D.
"He had a pair of shorts on, and his car had quit, and if we hadn't gotten there he definitely would have froze to death," Nord said, adding too many motorists don't have winter survival kits and are unprepared for conditions.
At about 9:30 a.m., crews in the Lisbon area reported that visibility already was diminishing west of town because of the incoming blizzard, Nord said.
Thoreson said three motorists were rescued overnight from County Road 10 west of West Fargo. The last person to be rescued from County Road 10 was a semi driver who told authorities at midnight he wanted to stay with his truck but then called about 4 a.m. for authorities to come get him, Thoreson said.
Deputies and state troopers following snowplows in four-wheel-drive vehicles were out this morning looking for stranded motorists.
They rescued four people from two vehicles on I-29 near Argusville shortly after 5 a.m., Thoreson said.
A family of four and a person in a separate vehicle were picked up on I-29 south of Fargo near the Kindred exit, he said, noting it took rescuers three hours to make the roughly 30-mile round trip.
As of 7:30 a.m., the tactical operations center set up in Fargo for the storm wasn't aware of any motorists still stranded, Thoreson said.
"That's our biggest worry is we haven't heard from somebody who's stranded," he said.
Thoreson said "dozens and dozens" of vehicles that have crashed or gotten stuck are being left on or along the roadways.
"I don't know that any of the major roadways will open today," he said. "And once they do decide, it's going to take a long time to clean these cars out before they can open up these roads again."
Since the blizzard hit, authorities in Cass County - with help Thursday night from the Clay County Sheriff's Office on snowmobiles - have escorted about 30 people back to safety, Thoreson said.
Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist also dispatched his deputies early today to start checking for stranded motorists as visibility improved and plows started to open up roads.
Deputies weren't called to rescue any stranded motorists overnight, but emergency personnel needed a snowplow to clear a path to a medical assist in Sabin, he said.
Bergquist asked people to stay home until crews can clear the roads.
With a second blizzard expected to start moving into the Fargo-Moorhead area mid-afternoon, Bergquist said he's "a little nervous with it being New Year's Eve." Authorities are asking revelers to use common sense and forgo partying if it means having to travel, he said.
"They'll just have to celebrate another night," he said.
A blizzard warning is in effect from 6 p.m. today to noon Saturday. The National Weather Service says new snow accumulations of 6 to 9 inches can be expected, with the heaviest snowfall likely near a line from Fargo to Bemidji, Minn.
So far, no life-threatening injuries or deaths related to the blizzard have been reported in Cass or Clay counties, officials said.