I-65 closed a second time; states of emergency being lifted

2014-01-06T17:00:00Z 2014-08-25T11:32:12Z I-65 closed a second time; states of emergency being liftedTimes Staff nwitimes.com
January 06, 2014 5:00 pm  • 

While Lake County officials lifted the state of emergency driving ban, Indiana State Police closed down Interstate 65 between Merrillville and Lafayette. 

The interstate was closed again late Monday because troopers said they didn't have enough resources to keep up with the drifting wind and snow.

Indiana State Police did not know when the interstate would reopen. 

Troopers closed I-65 and I-80/94 on Sunday because of weather conditions, but the interstates had reopened Monday afternoon. 

The Lake County Sheriff's Department lifted the state of emergency driving ban at 5 p.m. Monday.

Porter County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Larry LaFlower said its state of emergency will be lifted at 6 a.m. Tuesday. Government offices will reopen at 10 a.m. 

Plow crews in Porter County were working overnight to clear residential streets. 

Indiana Department of Transportation officials said expressways remained slick with drifting snow and urged drivers to use extreme caution, reduce speeds and drive at their own risk.

Nonemergency travel was discouraged by officials across Northwest Indiana.

LaFlower estimates Porter County emergency workers responded to 100 to 150 stranded motorists Sunday and Monday. 

Indiana State Police said, though the interstates were closed overnight, troopers and emergency workers responded to 95 slide-offs Sunday night to Monday morning. Troopers said they assisted 57 motorists and checked 30 abandoned vehicles overnight. 

Lake County deputies said Sunday they responded to 40 motorists who needed help in south Lake County. 

The Holiday Inn Express in Merrillville said they had about 20 people check in overnight because they had become stranded in Northwest Indiana. The Super 8 hotel in Portage said they had 26 rooms with people who were stuck in the area because of the bad road conditions. In the Comfort Inn in Michigan City, a worker said most customers extended their stay because of the road conditions. 

As residents and plow trucks tried to dig out of the snow, the area was setting record low temperatures. 

By Monday afternoon, the Chicago area had broken a record low for Jan. 6 with a low of 16 degrees below zero, according to the National Weather Service. The recorded high was 2 degrees below zero. The last time the area experienced such brutal temperatures was in 2009. 

According to the National Weather Service, Lansing had 44 degrees below zero wind chills at 9:35 a.m. Monday. Valparaiso recorded 46 degrees below zero wind chills Monday morning. 

The snow accumulation and cold temperatures disrupted the South Shore train service. South Shore representatives said commuter rail service will resume Tuesday. Metra was honoring South Shore tickets on its line in Illinois, Northern Indiana Commuter Rail Line representatives said Monday.

Gov. Mike Pence declared a state of disaster emergency for 29 counties including Lake, Porter, LaPorte and Jasper. The move clears the way for the potential for federal disaster aid. During a Monday news conference, Pence said he has yet to decide on whether to apply for federal aid.

Pence said he and key department heads plan to shift resources to Northwest Indiana. INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning said INDOT is shifting resources from Vincennes and Seymour districts to the LaPorte and Fort Wayne districts.

“We are still in the midst of a dangerous winter storm, and Hoosiers should know that while we have made real progress in addressing the challenges that this historic winter event has placed on our communities, we’re not there yet,” Pence said.

The governor's office announced Monday all state offices will reopen at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter said state troopers responded to more than 2,000 calls for service in 24 hours.

INDOT spokesman Matt Deitchley said not all motorists have obeyed the expressway closure barricades when the closures were in effect.

"Dozens of people have already been rescued from impassable roadways during the past 24 hours," he said.

Deitchley said snow was blowing and drifting across roads soon after they have been plowed, making clearing the roads challenging Monday morning. Some state snow plows were getting stuck on impassible roads, he said.

"Many roads require heavy duty front-end loaders to clear snow, slowing the plowing process," Deitchley said.

Some abandoned vehicles were littering the roadways as well, he said, preventing snow plows from clearing the pavement Monday morning.

Indiana National Guard Gen. Martin Umbarge said 250 soldiers and airmen are on duty assisting state troopers and local law enforcement.

Patti Van Til, spokeswoman for the Lake County Sheriff's Department, said the Illiana Search and Rescue Team helped county officers rescue stranded motorists in unincorporated areas.

Van Til said the team uses Hummers and officers rode with team members to ensure their squads would not get stuck on the snowy roads.

Lake County dispatchers said they were busy overnight responding to calls of stranded motorists. Most local police departments said residents heeded warnings and stayed off the roads.

Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, said all county government offices, except police and emergency workers, were closed Monday, but expect to reopen Tuesday.

Lake County Highway Superintendent Marcus Malczewski said county roads remained hazardous and many in south county were still snow-drifted and closed.

"The north unincorporated roads are in pretty good shape. Our problem is down south, as always, with the big winds. We have quite a few roads that are still closed and my truck drivers have been going since 8 a.m. Sunday. They are still here and still going and I don't see any relief in sight," he said.

Many police said their dispatchers were busy answering calls from residents asking about road and expressway closures and the states of emergency. Some business owners and managers were calling asking for assurances about the states of emergency and road closures, saying they needed a government mandate to satisfy corporate rules.

Police were urging residents to check local news and government websites for the latest information and to keep emergency and non-emergency lines clear.

Porter County's LaFlower had a clear message for motorists earlier Monday: "Stay home."

A state of emergency means only emergency responders, doctors and nurses are to be out on county roads, he said.

"We don't want anyone coming out and adding to the mess we already have," LaFlower said.

Emergency crews began the process Monday of removing abandoned vehicles along Division Road, on either side of Ind. 49, and Ind. 8, between Hebron and Kouts.

"State Road 8 is a parking lot," he said.

Stranded motorists rescued overnight were taken to area fire departments, LaFlower said.

The road conditions were dire enough that most emergency dispatchers had to be transported to work by police, National Guard or emergency management personnel, he said.

Porter County Highway Department plows were back at work at 4 a.m. Monday after being pulled off the roads at 6 p.m. Sunday, Assistant Supervisor David James said.

An emergency plow crew worked overnight assisting firetruck and ambulance calls in the Jackson and Pine township areas, he said.

Michigan City also declared a state of emergency for the city. Sgt. Chris Yagelski of the department said city officials were working to dispel social media rumors about the state of emergency.

"In no way does this mean that (Mayor Ron Meer) has ordered businesses to close, just that only essential personnel are expected to report to work during this weather emergency," Yagelski said. "There have been no curfews, penalties or other restrictions that have been put in place."

Snow removal went well Monday in Portage and Valparaiso, with both communities reporting main roads open and work underway on the side streets in subdivisions.

"We're really ahead of schedule here," Portage Assistant Street Superintendent Randy Reeder said.

With main roads open, plow crews worked on subdivisions and had 70 percent of that work done, he said.

Valparaiso also took the approach of keeping snow plows out all night to stay on top the falling and blowing snow, Assistant Public Works Director Brent Dickson said.

The frigid temperatures, fueled by the wind, kept salt from clearing the remaining snow and ice from the road, Dickson said. As temperatures rise Tuesday, the salt should be more effective.

Some Portage residents were not complying with a requirement to get vehicles off the roads for the plows after 2 or more inches of snow falls, Reeder said.

Roads within Portage remained open Monday. However Mayor James Snyder declared a state of emergency due to the snow and d,angerous temperatures, according to a release from the city Monday afternoon.

Gary/Chicago International Airport runways were closed over the weekend and remained closed Monday morning.

Gary Jet Center owner Wil Davis on Monday said the airport had been overwhelmed by the worst storm he had seen in more than 20 years of operating there.

By mid-afternoon Monday both runways had been opened and seven flights had already come in, according to Gary airport spokesman James Ward.

NIPSCO reported just 38 widely-scattered power outages throughout the entire northern Indiana service area, the bulk of which, 27, were in Fowler in Benton County.

Amanda Steeb, spokeswoman for Kankakee Valley R.E.M.C., said less than 60 customers were without power early Monday, all in Starke County.

The blizzard warning for LaPorte County expired at 6 a.m., giving way to a winter storm warning that was in effect until 3 p.m.

The winter storm warning was in effect primarily due to blowing and drifting snow, with winds expected between 20 and 30 mph with gusts up to 40 mph.

A wind chill warning was in effect for Cook, Will, Lake, Newton, Porter, Jasper, Benton and LaPorte counties through noon Tuesday. Chicago officially hit a record low at O'Hare for the day, breaking the 14 below zero record set in 1988.

According to the National Weather Service, many areas of Northwest Indiana received with more than a foot of snow. The two-day accumulation snow total for Valparaiso was 15.8 inches as of Monday.  Portage had 14 inches of snow as of Monday. 

In Lake County, Crown Point accumulated 15.6 inches of snow and St. John had 12 inches of snow by Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

Rensselaer had 10 inches of snow by Monday, according to the National Weather Service.  

In Illinois, Lansing received with 6 inches of snow. Chicago O'Hare International Airport recorded 11.7 inches of snow as of Monday.

A list of closures is available at www.nwi.com/closings.

Many municipalities have warming shelters available for those in need. A full list is available at www.nwi.com/digital/graphics.

Times Staff Writers Keith Benman, Dan Carden, Bill Dolan, Bob Kasarda, Lauri Harvey Keagle and Elvia Malagon contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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