Hundreds of motorists were stranded for agonizingly long waits Thursday as a late winter storm walloped Kentucky with up to 2 feet of snow, forcing National Guard soldiers and other emergency workers to make safety checks on snow-clogged interstates as road crews struggled to clear roads and wrecks.
“You see miles and miles of tail ends and tail ends. It’s not a very good sight,” National Guard Spc. Jeriel Clark said as his group of soldiers checked on stranded motorists and handed out food and water along snowbound Interstate 24 in far western Kentucky.
Gov. Steve Beshear declared a state of emergency, authorizing the National Guard to help with relief efforts.
Highways were clogged with stalled vehicles along rural stretches of I-24 and I-65. During the height of one pileup in western Kentucky, more than 400 vehicles were stuck along westbound I-24 between Cadiz and Eddyville, Beshear said.
Hundreds more vehicles were caught in long standstills on a portion of I-65 near Elizabethtown in central Kentucky.
“We’ve had people stranded since 8 o’clock last night,” Kentucky State Police Trooper Jeff Gregory said midday Thursday. “It’s been chaotic.”
National Guard Lt. Mathew Murphy was in the thick of it in his Humvee.
The guardsmen were checking on stranded motorists and taking people to a warming center in nearby Elizabethtown.
“They’re giving us a thumbs up and we’re making sure they’re OK,” he said.
At the time, the soldiers were looking for a stranded multiple sclerosis patient to make sure he got the medicine he needed.
Among the stranded along I-65 were the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s wife and other members of his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition staff. The group was on its way to join Jackson in Selma, Alabama, for this weekend’s events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Rev. Janette Wilson, the coalition’s senior adviser, told The Associated Press in a phone interview that staffers had been stuck on I-65 since 2:30 a.m. Thursday. At one point, they walked two miles to buy snacks at a gas station that was quickly running out of food. She said a nearby McDonald’s had already closed down because it ran out of food.
“Many of us have been here 12, 14 and some 20 hours. There has been no direct communication from any official who has been sent by the governor or anyone in this state to assess our condition, to assess the damage and to communicate to motorists, many of whom are running out of gas, have no food and, you know, if they have to turn their cars off they of course have to deal with inclement weather conditions,” Wilson said.
State highway officials said as soon as progress was made to clear the interstates, new wrecks caused entanglements and more waits for motorists.
There were no reports of storm-related deaths or widespread power outages in the state, Beshear said.
The National Weather Service said 15 to 20 inches of snow fell across broad swaths of western and central Kentucky.
A reported 25 inches fell near Radcliff in Hardin County, south of Louisville, the weather service said.
Twenty-three inches piled up in parts of Ohio County in western Kentucky, it said. Elsewhere, snowfall totaled 14.7 inches in Louisville, 17.1 inches in Lexington, 20.5 inches in Mount Washington, 19 inches in Bardstown, 18.5 inches in Frankfort and 21.5 inches in Cynthiana.
Paul Impellizzeri was brushing snow off his truck at his Louisville home to make a coffee run Thursday morning. The snow that fell in mid-February had just melted in his neighborhood on Wednesday, he said.
“It’s pretty nutty for March, I can tell you that,” said Impellizzeri, a computer programmer who was working from home on Thursday. “Generally you expect the trees to be blooming here pretty soon, but not with a foot of snow on the ground.”
With heavy snow in the forecast Wednesday night, state worker Chuck Truesdell had packed a bag and slept on a cot in his office so he would be sure not to miss work when lawmakers arrived Thursday.
State lawmakers ended up canceling their legislative work on Thursday and Friday due to the storm.
Truesdell was one of about two dozen Legislative Research Employees who had a state sleepover Wednesday night. With the cafeteria closed, they raided their stock of stored snacks, swapped old political stories and watched episodes of the British version of “House of Cards” on YouTube.
“I probably have one of the coldest offices in the building,” Truesdell said. “I was sleeping on my cot and I woke up and I said, ‘I can’t take this anymore,’ and went and turned on my space heater. … Five minutes later the power went out.”
LRC interim director Marcia Seiler came to the rescue with a delivery of croissants, muffins and juice. And once the power came back on, the coffee started flowing again and Truesdell and his colleagues went back to work.
Associated Press Writer Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.
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