By The Associated Press
Thirty years after a howling blizzard brought life to a standstill, Indiana residents are remembering the storm’s fury and how some cheated death while marooned in snowbound cars.
The blizzard began on Jan. 25, 1978, and continued for two more days, bringing the lowest non-hurricane-related barometric pressure ever measured in the United States — 28.28 inches — said Dave Tucek, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Indianapolis.
Eleven people died in Indiana from traffic accidents and the deadly cold that accompanied the heavy snowfall. High winds quickly whipped the snow into drifts the towered 10 to 20 feet high, leaving roads impassable and stranding motorists.
“In the case of the 1978 event, two fronts, two pressure centers, converged and the timing was just right,” said Ken Scheeringa, associate state climatologist.
During the blizzard crisis, Gov. Otis Bowen declared a snow emergency and more than 1,000 Indiana National Guard personnel were mobilized to help stranded travelers, snowbound workers and families whose homes had lost heat and electrical power during the crisis.
In Indianapolis, some people used the storm’s cover to loot stores.
But people also pulled together. At hotels, managers served food, and guests made their own beds. Car dealerships lent four-wheel drive vehicles to emergency workers.
A police office told The Indianapolis Star that the roughly 300 people stranded at Indianapolis International Airport were “one big happy family.”
In Bloomington, Indiana University officials closed the Bloomington campus for the first time ever.
Up to 40 inches of snow fell in some areas of northern Indiana, and South Bend’s 36 inches was the highest total reported for a Hoosier city.
Indianapolis got a single-day record of 15.5 inches on Jan. 26th which, combined with snow already on the ground before the storm arrived, made for a 20-inch snow cover.
Dean Kruse, the owner of car auction company Kruse International in Auburn, recalls being stuck in a rental car with three friends, all of them worried that they might freeze to death.
The four friends were driving home to Fort Wayne after all flights were canceled out of Indianapolis’ airport. Soon, they found themselves mired in a snow bank along Interstate 69 northeast of Indianapolis.
Leaving the car with wind chills more than 40 degrees below zero would have been suicide, so they waited it out in their car, which was quickly buried in snow. Eventually, it ran out of gas, leaving them without heat.
Hoping for rescue, the group took a pair of red slacks out of a suitcase and tied it so that the garment hung from the outside of a window, flapping like a red flag in the high winds.
In a recollection published Friday in The News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne, Kruse recalled he and his cohorts’ growing desperation, including how they ate snow to stay hydrated and sang “99 bottles of beer on the wall” to stay warm.
With the temperature inside the car falling, they tried without success to burn seat belts and seat covers. They finally found success by burning shoelaces dipped in hair oil.
“To our surprise, it burned like a candle and brought up the temperature in the car. We took a magazine, tore it up and lined the windows with the pages for insulation to preserve the heat,” Kruse wrote.
The next day around noon they heard pounding on the roof of their snowbound car and pounded back, but by 10 p.m. that night help still had not come.
Finally, between midnight and 2 a.m. in their second night they heard steel sliding alongside the car, and at first thought they were hallucinating and stricken with hypothermia.
“There was a pound on the window. It was help!” he wrote, describing the group’s rescue by National Guardsmen. “I can’t remember how the rest of us got out of the car, but I remember them dragging me out of the window.”
By The Associated Press
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