Indiana Weather: I-65 closes again after snow

January 6, 2014

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Nathan Coohon was one of several truck drivers at a Hebron gas station waiting there since Sunday for roads to improve. After portions of I-65 and I-94 re-opened Monday afternoon, Eyewitness News saw the aftermath: a slew of spinouts as we traveled on narrow, snow-covered lanes.

"They opened it up, a bunch of them tore out of here, and from what I'm hearing now, there's a bunch of them sitting in the ditches," said Nathan Coohon, truck driver.

I-65 remains closed again between Merrillville and Lafayette. North of Merrillville, traffic was moving Monday night, but conditions weren't much better. There were narrow, snow-covered lanes and blowing and drifting snow.

The expressway opened for several hours Monday after a 12-hour closure along with I-94. Interstate 94 remains open.

Plows had created snow barriers on ramps to keep drivers out after snowy, icy roadways and low visibility made travel in northwest Indiana perilous Monday. Even as the Indiana Department of Transportation reopened Interstates 94 and 65, police cautioned that they were hazardous, and drivers should remain off them if possible.

Lake, Porter, Jasper and LaPorte counties, including Michigan City, have declared a state of emergency. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency in 29 counties across the state Monday. The counties included in the declaration are: Clinton, Delaware, Elkhart, Fulton, Grant, Howard, Jasper, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Lake, LaPorte, Madison, Marshall, Montgomery, Newton, Noble, Porter, Pulaski, Rush, St. Joseph, Starke, Steuben, Sullivan, Tipton, Vermillion, Vigo, Wabash, White, and Whitley.

"We will continue to rely on the common sense and judgment of the people of Indiana. If you can stay in today, stay in all day today. We ask you to heed signs about road closures; we ask you to heed the leadership and announcements of local communities. They are for your safety and it's important that we take this weather event very, very seriously," Pence said on Monday.

In the Sunset Cove subdivision in Merrillville, residents say they have no other choice. No plows have come for days. Residents say the still-incomplete subdivision remains the property of the developer, not the city, and no one's been hired to clear the snow.

"No emergency people can get in here to save anybody if necessary. I mean, it's just a nightmare," said Julie Singh.

That developer did not return a phone call from Eyewitness News phone on Monday evening. Exactly when I-65 will reopen is unclear. Officials say many roads, not just the expressways, are littered with abandoned cars and that is hampering efforts to clear the snow.

The mayor of Gary gave out food to those in the city's emergency warming centers. She declared a state of emergency Sunday to allow crews to plow the streets. Many mail carriers and tellers couldn't make it to work at Gary's main post office. A supervisor said they are doing the best they can with fewer people and few passable side roads.

"We appreciate the patience of residents, and we are working as quickly as possible to clear streets so we can lift the State of Emergency ban later tonight," said Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.

Between midnight Sunday and Monday morning, the Lowell District of the Indiana State Police handled 220 calls, which consisted of assisting motorists, slide-offs, property damage and crashes with injuries.

The Indiana Toll Road was open, but the conditions were still bad. In general, roads are snow-packed and full of ice in spots where they seem clear. On one area roadway, Driver Gary Wilson was trying to get to Pennsylvania.

"It's been tough; just about 40 miles an hour. I've got it locked in four-wheel drive, taking my time, and there's not many cars on the highways. So, things have been going pretty good," said Wilson.

Members of the Indiana National Guard have been dispatched to help local agencies rescue stranded drivers. Several cars were seen abandoned in ditches.

"What we requested from EM is Humvee-type vehicles, four-wheel type vehicles, that we could get into these ramp areas where we couldn't get to people with passenger police cars," Indiana State Police Lt. Jerry Williams said. "I can tell you state highway [patrol] is working very hard and very aggressively right now to get these roads reopened as quickly as possible, but the best we can ask people is be patient and not try and travel."

The roads in parts of northwest Indiana were so bad that a few INDOT plows have gotten stuck. State troopers say the snow fell so fast that plows had a difficult time keeping up. Blowing and drifting snow also made it like digging in the sand. INDOT says it could be several days before any roads are in good condition.

South Shore train service was canceled Monday but expected to resume Tuesday. Bus service between South Bend and Michigan City was also halted.

Pence has announced that state offices will reopen Tuesday. Pence says government offices, closed Monday because of snow and sub-zero temperatures, will reopen 10 a.m. Tuesday across the state. Essential personnel have been told to report to work at their regularly scheduled times.

The Indiana General Assembly announced earlier in the day that it will kick off its 2014 session Tuesday afternoon.

In Indianapolis, for the first time in 40 years, all cars were ordered to stay off the roads except for emergency vehicles. At least one death was reported as a result of a crash on a snowy road.

(The Sun-Times Media Wire and AP contributed to this report.)

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