Triton strands travelers
-Red Cross, Emergency Management provide shelter-
Over 70 housed Sunday at Thayer Central gym.
Red Cross member and volunteer Debi Aaron counted 71 people needing shelter Sunday night as winter storm Triton plowed across the county drifting roads shut and making it almost impossible to see from swirling snow.
“We housed and fed a college baseball team after their bus became stuck,” she said. “We also had 26 other travelers. No one was hurt.”
Working in conjunction with the local law enforcement, State Patrol, Thayer County Emergency Management, Thayer Central Community Schools and local businesses, the shelter was quickly organized late Sunday afternoon when the Dakota Wesleyan University Greyhound bus making it’s way back to Mitchell, S. Dak., from Arizona, became stuck on U.S. 81.
The bus driver pulled over to the shoulder of the highway to clear ice off of the windshield wipers when the bus slid onto the soft shoulder and sank into the mud, explained local deputy Kent Kriesel. “We had Denny Fangmeier bring out a school bus to transport the students to the shelter,” he said.
Triton turned severe quickly as the front edge tracked its way across Nebraska. Looking like a spring storm bearing down on the area, a wall of black clouds unleashed thunder, lightning, wind and rain Saturday evening around 6:45 p.m. The temperature quickly dropped from a balmy 64 degrees to 38 degrees inside an hour. The rain didn’t let up until about 9 p.m., but the temperature continued to hover around the freezing mark while strong wind pummeled the county. A winter weather advisory was issued for the area, but was upgraded to a blizzard warning Sunday morning as snow and wind cut visibility to virtually nothing and drifted roads shut. Blowing and drifting snow created icy conditions on roadways stranding vehicles and wreaking havoc north of here, especially on I-80. An accident involving 26 vehicles tied up traffic for several hours. Officials closed the state artery from Lincoln to Grand Island for most of the day.
In Thayer County, Deputy Kriesel said five semi trucks came to a standstill while attempting to make their way up the hill on U.S. 81 near mile marker five. “They were going so slow because of the white-out conditions and just couldn’t get up the hill,” he said. “The Department of Roads came out to salt the highway to get them going again.” Kriesel said both the Shell and 81 Express gas station parking lots in Hebron were full of parked semis waiting out the storm. He added that several vehicles slid off the road, but that there were no injuries in the area. Also, a Department of Roads snow plow became stuck near the Deshler cemetery.
At the shelter, Aaron said the baseball team helped Red Cross volunteer Kevin Yoachim and emergency assistant manager Dan Fink set up cots and distribute blankets in the school gym. “They were wonderful help,” she said,” very cooperative and a joy to have at the shelter.”
Aaron said the Red Cross purchased pizzas and doughnuts from Casey’s to feed the group while the Budget Host Inn donated bottled water. “Mary’s Cafe donated coffee in the morning and Blue Valley Lutheran Homes provided towels so everyone could take showers,” she said. “BVLH also donated their laundry service to launder all the towels and blankets afterward.”
While the storm delayed school openings Monday morning, Aaron said the shelter was dismantled and everyone was on their way by 9 a.m. “With so much help from the local community, the shelter was a huge success,” Aaron said, “and I’m just glad we could be here for the travelers.”
According to local weather reporter Mike Prellwitz, Hebron received 3.8 inches of snow during the Sunday snowstorm.