State of emergency descends on NWI counties

2010-12-14T00:00:00Z 2011-01-04T01:31:47Z State of emergency descends on NWI countiesBy Times Staff
December 14, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Porter County lifted its state of emergency Monday night while high winds and lake-effect snow were expected to keep LaPorte County in emergency status until Tuesday morning.

Blowing and drifting snow on top of icy roads caused treacherous conditions throughout Monday and still were a big concern moving east across the region into Tuesday morning.

"All roads are open," Porter County Emergency Management Director Phil Griffith said Monday night. "But a lot are still down to one lane, and with the wind blowing and drifting the snow they are unsafe."

A state of emergency declaration means all roads officially are closed. County sheriff's police warned motorists that they drive at their own risk until the state of emergency is lifted.

"We are encouraging people not to travel out unless they absolutely have to," Griffith said.

A winter storm warning remained in effect for Porter County until 4 a.m. Tuesday and for LaPorte County through 7 a.m. Tuesday, the National Weather Service said. For Lake County, there was a hazardous weather outlook Monday night with dangerously cold wind chills dropping to 10 degrees to 15 degrees below zero.

"We are getting heavy lake-effect snow out there in LaPorte County, and it is still treacherous," Indiana State Police Sgt. Dan Leslie said Monday night.

There were still blizzard conditions and whiteouts on Interstate 94 from mile marker 26 in Porter County to mile marker 40 in LaPorte County, Leslie reported.

A semitrailer rollover on the ramp from westbound Interstate 80/94 to Interstate 65 about 7:25 p.m. closed down the ramps there for at least two hours, Leslie said. There were no injuries in the crash.

The Lowell state police post handled 90 crashes and 70 slide-offs from Sunday midnight through Monday night.

Total snow accumulation is expected to be 12 to 20 inches in northeast Porter County and as much as 2 feet in LaPorte County where the heavy lake bands persist.

More than a foot of snow already had fallen in some areas of Northwest Indiana by noon Monday, the National Weather Service reported.

Motorists were stranded in their vehicles overnight for as long as 15 hours after sliding off the ice- and snow-covered roads.

Griffith said Monday morning that snow removal efforts were slowed throughout the unincorporated areas of Porter County by the large number of vehicles that had been abandoned.

Early Monday morning, there were between 20 and 30 abandoned vehicles along Ind. 2, he said, and eight along Division Road in the area of County Road 325 East in Washington Township.

Sgt. Ann Wojas, of the Indiana State Police, said all abandoned and occupied cars on Ind. 2 were removed by 9 a.m. Monday morning, but the road remained closed due to the weather.

Some people were trapped overnight, but state police said all those rescued were safe and warm in their vehicles. Authorities didn't immediately report any serious injuries related to the storm.

In LaPorte County, as many as 100 vehicles were stuck in drifts as high as 6 feet, police said.

By noon Monday, LaPorte County Highway Department Superintendent Bob Young said crews were making a dent in clearing roads, but obstacles included drifting snow and abandoned vehicles blocking plows.

"We're doing the best we can," he said.

While roads were in pretty good shape inside cities and towns, drifting snow and abandoned vehicles made driving much more difficult or impossible in the unincorporated areas, Griffith said. The east-west roads were hit particularly hard because of the strong north winds, he said.

All schools in Porter County were closed Monday, as was county government. LaPorte County government offices were closed as well.

In Lake County, Ind. 2 west of Ind. 55 was closed in Lowell due to hazardous conditions for much of the day.

Lake County Highway Superintendent Marcus Malczewski said there were 14 east-west roads closed to traffic Monday morning because of drifting snow. He said the county hoped to open them later Monday morning, "but I don't know how long they will stay open, depending on the wind."

He added, "People shouldn't travel unless absolutely necessary."

Indiana State Police for the Toll Road reported numerous slide-offs and spin-outs throughout the system with the most treacherous area stretching from Portage east to mile marker 46 in LaPorte.

The Toll Road itself was not closed in those areas.

Representatives from the Indiana Department of Transportation are urging motorists to stay off all roads if possible to allow plow drivers to clear the roads.

INDOT officials said the state had deployed every available snowplow, but high winds were causing the snow to drift and cover them again as soon as they were cleared. The state's 150 local drivers were set to work around the clock in 12-hour shifts. To help with the effort, the state dispatched 31 additional drivers to the region from Indianapolis and southern Indiana.

U.S. 6 remained impassable due to drifting and blowing snow between U.S. 421 and U.S. 35 in LaPorte County, as did Ind. 8 between U.S. 231 in Hebron and Ind. 49 in Kouts.

Interstate 94, which normally has six lanes of traffic in LaPorte and Porter counties, was down to two lanes in each direction due to the heavy snowfall Monday, and driving was slow from Interstate 65 to the Illinois border.

Only 379 NIPSCO customers were without power Monday, with the bulk of them -- 182 -- in LaPorte.

Chesterton Police Chief George Nelson said the Chesterton Town Hall and the YMCA on Roosevelt Street were warming stations for those who need a warm place.

Times staff writers Lauri Keagle, Bob Kasarda, Keith Benman and Jeff Burton and correspondent Stan Maddux contributed to this report.

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