Many Helping Hands in Storm Rescue Efforts in Minnesota

With so many people needing rescue, hotels in Austin, along with the Austin Walmart and Valley Transportation in Dexter, opened their doors to people in need of shelter.

by Mike Stoll, Austin Daily Herald, Minn. / February 27, 2019
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(TNS) - This weekend’s storm has meant long hours for emergency personnel as numerous stranded motorists were in need of rescuing.

According to Mower County, Minn., Sheriff Steve Sandvik, preliminary numbers indicate that over 150 vehicles were abandoned throughout Mower County during the storm.

Many of those vehicles contained people in need of rescue.

The severity of the storm became apparent after a deputy’s squad car and a snowplow sent to rescue a stranded woman and her grandchild both got stuck Saturday night six miles north of Austin. Sandvik had to call in a road grader to get them out.

“It took four hours to get them the six miles back to Austin,” Sandvik said.

Sandvik had deputies and snow plows from the County Highway Department go out in teams to assist in rescue operations.

Due to limited resources, Sandvik also utilized road graders and help from private citizens for assistance in the rescue efforts.

Overall, several dozen people were rescued, according to Sandvik. Deputies and plow teams also assisted with four ambulance calls to rural parts of the county.

“I’m so impressed and proud of our local partners, the County Highway Department, deputies and dispatchers; they all came together,” Sandvik said. “In my 18 years here, we’ve never had a storm like this.”

With so many people needing rescue, hotels in Austin, along with the Austin Walmart and Valley Transportation in Dexter, opened their doors to people in need of shelter.

“It was crazy; this was the worst storm we’ve ever seen,” said Gabby Paaverud, Front Desk Manager at the Austin Holiday Inn. “We had a lot of people who just wanted to be safe. We couldn’t keep up with our own plowing and we were trying to help guests get out. It was a lot. If there was anyone we could take in, we were willing to do it. At some point, we ran out of rooms and we could only take so many people. That was really hard.”

Sandvik said virtually every hotel room in Austin was full.

Road cleanup still ongoing

Because of the large amount of snow, street crews are still working to clear the streets, a job that is being hampered by vehicles not following the even/odd parking rule under the Snow Emergency Ordinance, which went into effect Sunday evening.

The city opted on Tuesday afternoon to extend the Snow Emergency Ordinance until 8 a.m. Saturday.

“This cleanup is going to be a weeklong process,” said Austin Police Chief David McKichan. “People parked on the streets need to realize that just because a road is plowed does not mean a snow plow won’t have to come through again. This is why they need to follow the parking rule under our Snow Emergency Ordinance. When one side of the street is clear, it allows easier access. If one vehicle is on the opposite side of the road from others, it narrows the road into a bottleneck that could prevent larger vehicles, like snow plows, ambulances and fire engines, from getting through.”

Under the ordinance, residents have to park their vehicles on the side of the street with even addresses starting at 8 a.m. on even dates and on the side with odd addresses starting at 8 a.m. on odd dates. Parking is also not allowed on designated streets and parking lots in business areas from 1-8 a.m. to allow snowplows to clear those spots. Information on the Snow Emergency Ordinance can be found at www.ci.austin.mn.us/public-works/engineering.

McKichan said that, given the current snow levels, any amount of snow could prompt the city to declare a snow emergency. The APD is ticketing vehicles found in violation and will tow vehicles that are presenting problems with clearing streets.

Because of the road conditions, Sandvik and McKichan urge drivers to use caution, especially on roads with encroaching drifts. Caution should also be observed at intersections where snow banks are high.

Snow Emergency Guidelines

Snow emergency routes are mainly located in the midtown business district, but also extend to areas including Sterling Shopping Center, Mayo Clinic Health System in Austin and East Side Business District. In the event that a snow emergency is called, there is no parking on streets in those areas between 1-8 a.m. while crews clear the street. Parking is restricted in downtown parking lots during this same period. Two lots have been designated for safe parking during a snow emergency: Municipal Pool lot (south half) and Brick Furniture Lot

In areas not designated as a snow emergency route, street parking follows the calendar. If it is an odd day on the calendar, park on the odd side of the street and if it is an even day, park on the even side. Snow emergencies are typically called when four inches of snow falls and will last 72 hours, unless cancelled early by city officials.

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©2019 the Austin Daily Herald (Austin, Minn.)

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