MERILLVILLE, Ind. (WLS) --High winds and heavy snowfall combined for whiteout conditions and treacherous travel in northwest Indiana. Snow totals of a foot or more have been reported, including 15 inches in Ceder Lake, 12 inches in Valparaiso, just over 11 inches in Schererville and about 10 1/2 inches in Crown Point.
Porter County declared a state of emergency shortly after 5:30 p.m. Only emergency vehicles, plows and utility vehicles are allowed on roadways until the declaration is lifted. Officials say snow is accumulating rapidly, blowing and drifting at rates that are very dangerous for travelers and county plow trucks cannot keep up.
A tow policy is in effect in Gary. Gary Police has issued an order to tow all vehicles parked on city streets designated as snow routes. Residents should move their cars.
As of 9:30 p.m., NIPSCO said there are currently 21,000 power outages across their coverage area with the majority in Lake and Porter counties, and 39,000 have been restored.
Crews are working to assess the damage and restore power, and neighboring utility contractors are supporting their efforts, but NIPSCO says it expects cleanup will take more than one day.
Several drivers were rescued from cars and even semis after becoming stuck in blowing snow. Even some police cars were immobilized.
The ramp to southbound I-65 was closed by state police for a time, due to stranded drivers, their cars and trucks stuck in the snow.
"One guy went sideways in the road and got stuck, and then everyone was trying to push him and couldn't get him going," said Bill Spork of Valparaiso.
Justin Moffitt and his son Landan pitched into help stranded motorists. They've helped at least 15 people, pulling them out of the snow.
"My hope is someone will do it for my wife someday if she's ever stuck," he said.
Gus Hackel and his friends also fought fierce winds to lend a hand.
"We've been pushing people out and hooking up tow straps and pulling them out of the snow," Hackel said.
Spin-out accidents into snowbanks were common along the highways. There was even a bicyclist spotted making his way on two wheels, though it's not recommended.
Indiana State Police asked residents to watch the news, listen to the radio or go online to get updates on road and weather conditions during the storm, instead of calling police so they can respond to emergency calls during the storm. Motorists should call *999 for help from Illinois State Police or the tollway's Highway Emergency Lane Patrol. Officials also said the tollway's oases are good places to stop if travelers need a break from driving in the snow.
Some got an early dismissal from work out of consideration for the dangerous driving conditions.
"They know that the wind is picking up. They want us to be home with our families rather than working," said Chip Mattis.
Snow plows and salt trucks are out on the street and crews are asking drivers to stay home if at all possible.
"Right now just give us the street," says Gary Gleason, Hammond Public Works Director. "Because you know, somebody runs into us there's somebody in the other car; that shuts that truck down."
Visit www.in.gov/indot/2420.htm and in.gov/dhs/traveladvisory for the latest road and travel advisories.
Most government offices closed by noon and schools didn't open at all. That was a mixed blessing for some students.
"We got a call saying we had no school, so I was like, yay! No school! Going over to grandma and grandpa's house," says 13-year-old Angelle Czaja. "Now I'm out here helping shoveling snow."