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HIGHWAY PATROL: "I've never seen ice like this," interstates unlikely to open in ND until Sunday

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If you want to head out of the Fargo-Moorhead area today, consider the effects of back-to-back blizzards through the eyes of North Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Dave Wolf.

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"The roads are still glare ice," Wolf said this morning. "I've never seen ice like this on the road this long."

Roadways remain plugged and impassable outside of the metro area as teams of patrol officers and snowplow operators work to clear major highways, including interstates 29 and 94.

"I don't anticipating a road opening until sometime tomorrow (Sunday)," Wolf said this morning.

Numerous vehicles remain stuck on Interstate 29 between Fargo and Gardner, N.D., he said.

Near mile marker 81, about 12 miles north of Fargo, Wolf counted three semis and 14 passenger cars stuck on the road. Some of the semis have been there for a couple days, where 8 inches of fresh snow has plugged the road.

Crews are working to remove the vehicles today.

"It's taking a lot of time to get the road opened," Wolf said. "These cars are really hampering that effort. They are making it difficult to get the plows through."

Snowplow operators and law enforcement were reminded Friday how difficult it can be to clear roads. Wolf said it took six hours Friday to clear 31 vehicles stranded on Interstate 94, where about a 100 cars, semis and pickup trucks were stuck after a multi-vehicle accident backed up traffic.

By Friday night, troopers were forced to make several trips north of Fargo on I-29 because motorists failed to obey road closures and follow a no travel advisory.

About 10 p.m., troopers and snowplow operators went on a mission to rescue nearly 20 people in stuck vehicles.

The ill-advised travel resulted in rides in squad cars, where they were lectured before the drivers received tickets for disobeying road closures.

Many of the drivers were traveling to Fargo from Grand Forks, Wolf said.

He went on his own mission about 7 p.m., driving 12 miles north to bring a young man to safety. With the aid of a snowplow, Wolf said the roundtrip took about two hours.

"The snow was such a hard pack you couldn't even bust through it with a snow plow," he said.

The rescued driver, a man in his 20s, was trying to drive to Fargo to spend New Year's Eve with his girlfriend, Wolf said.

Such trips have become the norm for troopers after back-to-back blizzards blanketed the Red River Valley to close out 2010.

"It gets frustrating," Wolf said. "On the flip side, you know those people are in danger because of the wind chills and the cold."

While the trips have become familiar, the efforts haven't gone unnoticed, at least by some of the rescued drivers.

"This kid that jumped out of my car last night was thanking us beyond belief and saying he would never do anything like this again," Wolf said. "So hopefully he learned a valuable life lesson out of the deal."

Patrol officers, he said, have been working 12 to 16 hour shifts since the storms began Thursday.

"I can't tell you how much we appreciate our officers," Wolf said. "Sacrificing the holidays with their families, their houses are full of snow and driveways, but they're leaving that until we get the job done. Our employees are going the distance on this one."

He knows once his shift ends, the work isn't finished.

"I haven't touched my driveway in three days," Wolf said.

And while patrol officers have a tough job in the storms, Wolf said they know others help make their job possible.

"The tow truck operators are the buys bearing the brunt of the cold," he said. "Those guys are going above and beyond. We wouldn't be able to do any of this stuff without those guys."

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