Police search for stranded motorists
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
February 11, 2010; 9:15 AM ET
Categories: Advisories , Commuting , Weather , highways | Tags: street closings
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