Paralyzed By Winter Storm

Thursday, February 15th 2007, 5:38 am
By: News On 6

HAMBURG, Pa. (AP) _ National Guardsmen in Humvees ferried food, fuel and baby supplies Thursday to hundreds of motorists stranded on a 50-mile stretch of highway for nearly a day by a monster storm blamed for 15 deaths.

The traffic jam on the icy, hilly section of Interstate 78 in eastern Pennsylvania forced authorities to also shut down portions of I-81 and I-80 Thursday afternoon as they struggled to gain ground on the colossal traffic jam.

Drivers were frustrated they were let on the road at all. State police did not close all the entrance ramps to I-78 until around 5 p.m., more than 24 hours after vehicles starting getting caught.

``Why would they have that exit open if they were just going to let us sit there?'' said a crying Deborah Miller. Her 5-year-old son was trapped in the car with her, running a 103-degree fever from strep throat.

The sprawling storm system hit Wednesday and blew out to sea Thursday, leaving huge snow piles, frigid temperatures and tens of thousands without power across the Midwest and Northeast.

Numerous areas saw more than a foot of snow, with 42 inches falling in the southern Adirondacks in New York. Gusty wind had morning wind chills below zero, and in some areas, the snow was followed by several inches of ice.

A few flights were canceled Thursday after numerous cancelations Wednesday, and many school districts that had canceled classes Wednesday extended the unplanned vacation by an extra day.

``This storm was rare because of the unusual amount of snow and ice,'' Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Allen D. Biehler said. ``This series of accidents that blocked our way made it really, really difficult.''

The National Guard's aid operation ended once the stranded vehicles were cleared from I-78 Thursday evening. Some vehicles _ mostly trucks _ were still being towed after becoming stuck in sections of the other two highways, Pennsylvania transportation officials said.

Road-clearing operations were expected to continue through the night and into the morning. Transportation spokesman Sean Brown said he could not say when the roads would reopen.

Eugene Coleman, who is hyperglycemic, was trapped for 20 hours while on his way home to Hartford, Conn. from visiting his terminally ill mother in Georgia, along with his girlfriend and pregnant daughter.

``How could you operate a state like this? It's totally disgusting,'' Coleman said. ``God forbid somebody gets really stuck on the highway and has a life-threatening emergency. That person would have died.''

Authorities also were flooded with calls from frustrated motorists wanting to know why the road hadn't reopened.

Police said they took fuel to some motorists and food to others, including several diabetics who called 911.