Arctic air and over a foot of snow descended on LaGrange County starting late Saturday night, Jan. 4. By Sunday evening, many roads were impassable and remained so through most of Tuesday.
Temperatures dropped quickly during the day Sunday and remained below zero through most of Tuesday. Wind chills were predicted to be 25 below or lower.
The county declared a travel emergency at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 5, which requested citizens refrain from all travel except for emergencies and emergency personnel. All three school districts closed Monday, and later extended closures through Wednesday of this week. County offices were closed through Tuesday.
LaGrange County Emergency Management Director Stewart Bender reported that some farmers who were contracted to help clear roads were having difficulties getting through with their equipment.
County officials extended the emergency travel warning through Tuesday, finally suspending the warning around 4:15 p.m. Tuesday afternoon and putting the county in a “watch” status. Most roads were opened to at least one lane, although many roads were still seeing significant drifting.
Under the “watch” status, conditions are still considered threatening to the safety of the public. Travel is requested to be limited to only “essential travel.” Those who do not need to be out on the roads are still asked to refrain from driving as crews continue to work on clearing roads.
The LaGrange County Sheriff’s Department also requested that calls to LaGrange County Communications be reserved to calls for service and 911. They reported being flooded with calls requesting road conditions, which have been tying up valuable lines for serious incoming calls.
An overwhelming number of calls kept dispatchers busy throughout the storm, with a small percentage of the calls being for true emergencies. Communications Director Arron Knisley reported the center received over a thousand calls, most of which were residents asking if they could drive or not.
“They took a lot of calls from a lot of upset people,” noted Sheriff Terry Martin. “The dispatch center did an excellent job dealing with callers. I can’t be more proud of them.”
The county was looking out for the safety of the public as well as the officers and other emergency personnel and road crews. Martin commented that when a vehicle would get stuck, it put not only that person’s life at risk, but those of the personnel who are sent to help.
Stuck cars littered roads around the county, creating hazards and delays as county crews work to reopen the roads. “The county guys are working hard,” Martin said of the efforts to clear the roads.
The county asked that residents call to let them know where cars have been stuck and abandoned so that the information can be passed along to the county highway crews. “There are dozens of stuck vehicles,” Knisley said. “There are others out there we haven’t found.” Knisley said that when a county plow truck comes across an abandoned vehicle, they call dispatch, which sends a tow truck to that location and the vehicle is towed at the owner’s expense. Using license plate information, the county contacts the car’s owner.
One issue with people traveling in these conditions is that the county is unable to keep up with getting to people who get themselves stuck, Knisley said. “There is no guarantee that we could get to you,” he pointed out.
All in all, Knisley said, “the vast majority of the public has followed directions.” That allowed emergency personnel to do their jobs the best they could under the extreme circumstances.
Fortunately, the county saw few true emergencies during the storm. One serious incident occurred Tuesday morning west of Howe when a man was airlifted to a Ft. Wayne hospital after an explosion in his shop.
A doctor was assisted by county plow trucks in getting to the hospital to help a patient deliver a baby.
One crash was reported Tuesday morning near CR 400N and 100E when a vehicle struck an abandoned vehicle.
The National Guard Highway Assistance Team was called in twice. The team helped to transport a patient for dialysis in Kendallville, while a second team helped to transport another patient to Goshen Hospital. Knisley noted that the team got stuck going to Kendallville and was assisted in getting unstuck by the Stroh Fire Department and county highway personnel.
A truck that was stuck overheated and caught fire west of Topeka Sunday evening.
Bender reported that a couple of mothers and their children were moved to an area hotel when their furnace stopped working.
There were also a couple of reports of emergency fuel deliveries needing to be made.
“The response has been a joint effort by everyone,” Bender commented. “Everyone worked together out there.”
“When things like this happen, we help each other out,” Sheriff Martin said, noting the efforts by not only his department, but county highway personnel, fire departments, EMTs and everyone else involved in assisting county residents during the severe storm.
Although not a blizzard, the storm left an impact on the county and will be recalled for winters to come.