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Winter storm wreaks havoc

March 10, 2017
Bryce Berginski - Tribune Reporter , Pierce County Tribune

Winter weather conditions weren't done with the Pierce County area earlier this week.

On Monday, fog gave way to mid-morning and afternoon thunderstorms with freezing rain. The rain then transitioned into blizzard conditions.

The storm dropped an estimated one inch of rain and seven inches of snow Monday and two inches of snow Tuesday.

Article Photos

An area resident tries to shovel snow in front of I.C. Dubbles in Rugby. (Carissa Mavec/PCT)

According to meteorologist April Cooper with the National Weather Service office in Bismarck, the storm that hit the area Monday was part of a low pressure system that was originally "spinning" off the northern Pacific. With the system came mid-level instability that caused thunderstorms.

High winds caused blowing snow and low visibility. Wind gusts over 70 mph occurred in the morning and early afternoon Tuesday.

U.S. Highway 2 eastbound from Minot to Devils Lake and westbound from Devils Lake to Rugby was closed until Wednesday morning. N.D. Highway 3 was blocked in multiple locations from the junction of Highway 19 near Esmond to the Canadian border, as well as five miles south of the junction according to a N.D. Department of Transportation press release.

Fact Box

'Snowed in'

Amtrak train stuck in huge snowbank near Rugby


Special to The Tribune

A trip to Minneapolis for five Minot State University music students and instructor on the Amtrak passenger train abruptly came to a halt early Wednesday morning when the train became stuck in a huge snowbank near Rugby.

Music students Miranda Fenner, Jasmine Spitzer, Ashlie Hope, Sydney Johnson, Katie George and music instructor Rebecca Petrik were among more than 100 passengers on the eastbound Amtrak train. The MSU group was on its way to the American Choral Directors Association national conference in Minneapolis.

Fenner said the train was seven hours late because of the weather (initially they were to leave Minot about 9:30 Tuesday evening) but they finally got out of the city at 6 a.m.

An hour later, she said the train got stuck in a 25-foot-high by 200-foot-long snowbank. She said the train's conductor told them the size of the snowbank.

"Train attendants used the term 'snowed in' instead of 'stuck,'" said Fenner.

Marc Magliari, a spokesman for Amtrak in Chicago, said 111 passengers were aboard the eastbound train. He said the train was delayed west of Rugby. That area called Tunbridge is located about five miles west of Rugby.

"Conditions aboard the train are fine, with all hotel services operational. We have reached out to emergency responders only as a precaution," said Magliari at midday Wednesday. "BNSF is working to remove the snow that is temporarily preventing us from continuing east and we appreciate their assistance."

Fenner said snowplows were brought to dig out the front of the train but that apparently did not work. Skid-steers also worked at the site to break out the snow around the train.

She said then two freight train engines were brought in to pull out the train from behind but apparently that also did not work.

Another two more train engines then were going to be brought in to try to move the train.

"It is BNSF's track that Amtrak operates on in North Dakota. Our crews have been working to clear the snow around the train and help get them moving again," said Amy McBeth, Minneapolis, BNSF public relations director for this region.

As of about 2 p.m. Wednesday, Fenner said the four engines weren't successful. "They brought in more bulldozers and equipment to help dig us out to hopefully push and pull our way out. That's the latest," she said in a text to her mother, Ellen Fenner of Minot.

Fenner said the train had power and the cafe and lounge were open so food was available to them.

As of about 1 p.m., Wednesday, Magliari said the temporary track closure also affected a westbound train holding at Leeds with 96 passengers.

"Our on-board crews are working hard to keep passengers comfortable on both trains," Magliari said.

Fenner said many of the people on the train were spending the time sleeping.

As of about 4 p.m., the Amtrak train still was at the site, according to Fenner, where crews were working to move it from the snowbank.

Ogden is the regional editor for the Minot Daily News.

First Lutheran Church and the Rugby Armory, as well as homes of some area residents became temporary places to stay for displaced motorists. Rev. Mike Pretzer of the Rugby-Leeds Lutheran United parish said four people two adults and two children stayed at the church. Pierce County Emergency Manager Kelsey Siegler said 73 people and seven dogs were at the Armory, but it was unknown Wednesday morning how many were housed with area residents.

Several area events were canceled or postponed due to weather conditions.

In Rugby, the City Council meeting which is usually held the first Monday of each month at 7:30 p.m. was postponed until Monday, March 13. Schools were canceled on Tuesday morning and set to start at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday with no buses running.

The N.D. High School Activities Association twice postponed regional basketball tournaments in the area, particularly the Region 4 tournament in Devils Lake and the Region 6 tournament in Minot. Both tournaments were originally slated to begin Monday, but were rescheduled for Thursday, Friday and tonight.

The low pressure system triggered severe weather in other parts of the U.S., including tornado watches in counties in central Minnesota.



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