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Police search for stranded motorists

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Updates on the search's progress are from Post Now , our breaking news blog.

Update, 7:45 p.m.:

By 7:40 p.m., Battalion Chief Michael Dmuchowski of Frederick County Fire and Rescue said rescuers had made their way to six more cars -- all of which were empty. They were closing on the seventh and final vehicle on their to-search list.

But after a sunny afternoon, conditions were deteriorating, causing new more motorists to drive into snow banks and call for help.

"There are others that keep popping up, because some of the roads are getting slick, and snow is drifting again," he said.

Update, 6:15 p.m.: Rescuers were still trying to reach about seven vehicles scattered around Frederick County to make sure there were no people inside, The Post's Dan Morse reports from Frederick.

The cars, most on back roads in remote areas, may have simply been abandoned, said Battalion Chief Michael Dmuchowski, a spokesman for Frederick County Fire and Rescue.

Starting Wednesday morning, when the blizzard was beginning to kick in, hundreds of motorists in Frederick called authorities for assistance, according to the state police. It became difficult for police to track their safety, because many of the motorists got unstuck, were rescued by other drivers, nearby farmers or even men on snowmobiles. In many cases, troopers were able to verify their safety by reaching them on their cell phones.

By Thursday morning, authorities were still checking reports of 39 vehicles that were stuck. By 5 p.m., that was reduced to about seven.

Police are uncertain how many people actually stayed in their cars overnight.

A state police spokesman said Thursday afternoon that "ultimately the number of occupied vehicles still on the scene turned out to be fewer than number originally thought to be there."

About six people, seated among three or four cars, chose to ride the storm out rather than be picked up by rescue workers and leave their vehicles behind, said Lt. Michael J. Brady, commander of the state police barracks in Frederick. The motorists had gas in their tanks, and were able to periodically start their cars to stay warm, Brady said.

"They absolutely wanted to stay in their vehicle," said Brady.

Those with kids weren't given a choice. "If you had a young child, you were getting in" a rescue or police vehicle, Brady said.

Earlier, Morse reported that as of 3:45 p.m. Thursday, rescue workers were still trying to make their way to at least seven vehicles. They were unsure if motorists still were inside the cars or had made their way to safety, according to a fire and rescue spokesman.

"We're still waiting for some heavy vehicles to get to the areas," Battalion Chief Michael Dmuchowski of Frederick County Fire and Rescue said.

State troopers who have been helping motorists since Tuesday morning -- often by staying in contact with them on their cell phones when they were in their cars or had made their way to safety -- said they weren't aware of any motorists still trapped in their cars as of 3 p.m.

Heavy snow and blowing drifts dropped visibility to less than 10 feet in some parts of the county, said Lt. Michael J. Brady, commander of the state police barracks in Frederick. "Yesterday was the worst weather related event I have ever seen," said Brady, a 20-year veteran.

No serious injuries were reported from the stuck motorists.

Three particularly hard hit areas were: Route 340, extending west from the city of Frederick to Route 17; a section of Route 15 near Pennsylvania, between Thurmont and Emmitsburg; and a section of Route 85 near the Montgomery County border.

10:30 a.m. Update: State and local rescue teams are trying to reach 39 disabled vehicles holding at least 20 people, including children, who have been stranded since Wednesday and hemmed in by snowdrifts and unplowed roads throughout Frederick County. The vehicles are at scattered sites from just north of Montgomery County to the farthest northern points of Frederick County.

Emergency rescue teams have been in cellphone contact with vehicle occupants who called for help. The occupants have said they are fine so far and are waiting to be pulled from snowbanks and off the sides of roadways, said Tom Owens, director of Fire and Rescue Services for Frederick County. National Guard troops and a Maryland State Police helicopter are aiding local crews in the searches, Owens said.

The vehicles are at scattered locations, including isolated rural roads, which complicates the search, Owens said. In some instances, crews are having to walk more than a quarter of a mile through 3-foot drifts to reach cars, Owens said.

State and local snowplows and heavy equipment were pulled off roads near Frederick during part of Wednesday when whiteout conditions hit. Interstate 70 westbound at Frederick was closed until Thursday morning and portions of other major roads and many ramps remain impassable, state and local authorities said.

-- Mary Pat Flaherty

Original post: Westbound I-70 near Frederick has re-opened as state and local officials continue to clear a knot of about eight jackknifed tractor-trailer rigs and 30 stranded passenger vehicles that had been caught Wednesday in snowdrifts up to 8 feet high, said Charlie Gischler, spokesman for the State Highway Administration.

Portions of other roads in the area remain closed but "things should start falling into place rapidly now," said Gischler.

-- Mary Pat Flaherty

By Michael Bolden  |  February 11, 2010; 9:15 AM ET
Categories:  Advisories , Commuting , Weather , highways  | Tags: street closings  
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Next: Today's read: Snow winners and losers



Posted by: FridayKnight | February 11, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Yet more proof of why people should not be driving when weather advisories are in effect. They put not only their own lives in danger, but also those of the rescue workers.

Posted by: clougen | February 11, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

I was out yesterday at 10:00 going home from Calverton to Germantown. It was pretty bad but the 4X4 did fine as long as you did not drive like an idiot. What surprised me were the number of idiots driving small cars and minivans out on the roads. No wonder so many got stuck. I feel awful for the children stuck in the cars because their parents are so stupid.

Posted by: Pilot1 | February 11, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

What the heck were these people doing driving in that type of weather? Don't they listen to advice on radio or TV?

Posted by: habaneronegrito1 | February 11, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

The e-mail I received gave an abbreviated report referring to "Frederick County" but no state given. I suspected it was Frederick County MARYLAND (instead of Frederick County VIRGINIA) but was not sure till I brought up the entire article. I suggest when it is possible to not be sure which state is involved to put MD or VA at least. Thanks.

Posted by: jlincoln1934 | February 11, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Up here in Frederick we get our news from DC. It wasn't as bad in DC as it was up here so I guess people saw those reports and just went out there thinking they could get where they wanted to go. Yep, idiots! There were very few emergencies that warrented anyone being out on the roads yesterday. Some of the roads here are still closed. Drifts across the fields are as high as some houses. I wouldn't even venture out there today. Some people these days just make me shake my head.

Posted by: pudlmom | February 11, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Toss them a granola bar and move on. Unless they're trying to get to a hospital, let them walk home. Push the cars into the ditch if necessary.

Posted by: member8 | February 11, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe how many stupid people there are. Why are they out driving in weather that bad? Leave them there, their ignorance and blatant stupidity is going to cost TAX PAYERS. Maybe when they find these hypocrites, they should send them the bill. I can;t see any reason why anyone, ( UNLESS YOU ARE EMERGENCY PEOPLE), should be out. I just don;t get these morons.

Posted by: itscc721 | February 11, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

When snowstorms are forecast (whether 3-5-10-20-30 inches) most people need to get home and stay home. That area was forecast to be a blizzard with deep snow well in advance. Why be so self-centered as to endanger rescue workers and others and impede and endanger snow plow operators and their ability to do their job and allow safe travel? It is beyond comprehension. In my small neighborhood, too, though, many people seemed to think they were invincible.

Posted by: nvnative | February 11, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

I live in Frederick County and it always amazes me the idiots that think they can undermine mother nature. All of the technology avenues of communication and these people still go out. Idiots. Trouble is emergency personnel have to risk their lives to help them. When the local authorities and the governor are telling you not to go out and you do; you should be heavily fined unless it is a medical emergency. Where are they going? Nothing is open.

Posted by: vgrinderooc | February 11, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

You guys should lighten up on people already tramitized though the night. They are'nt morons or even stupid. Maybe they just can't make intelligent decisions. Kind of like 80% of this country!! We should ticket them like a regular traffic infraction and get a judge or judges to decide it. We ticket people for not wearing seat belts or not putting their child in a restrant seat. These are also stupid things people do or don't do!

Posted by: IMZWLRS | February 11, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Many of those people were out there because their EMPLOYERS were too stupid to understand "State of Emergency--stay off the roads" and expected people to show up for work.

Posted by: ceebee2 | February 12, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

This was not a surprise weather system-- it was well-advertised. From the moment people woke up, they should have known a "Blizzard Warning was in effect for the entire state of Maryland." People were warned to stay off roadways. People are more connected to instant information than ever before. There is simply no excuse why these people got themselves stranded due to their own negligence and complete lack of awareness. Perhaps they should pay the full cost of the paid and volunteer rescue crews who came to their aid.

Posted by: weather1962 | February 12, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

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