Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitobans hit ditch in N.D. whiteout

Three dozen people hole up in Drayton hall

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A shopper struggles in near-whiteout conditions as she leaves the Target store in Grand Forks, N.D., on Monday afternoon as a snowstorm named Gigi blows through.

JOHN STSENNES / GRAND FORKS HERALD Enlarge Image

A shopper struggles in near-whiteout conditions as she leaves the Target store in Grand Forks, N.D., on Monday afternoon as a snowstorm named Gigi blows through.

About three dozen people, many of them Manitobans, spent Monday night playing cards, shooting pool, eating hotdogs and sleeping on cots at a Drayton, N.D., community hall because of a blizzard named Gigi.

It wasn't the way Winnipegger Georgina Maxfield and her 13-year-old son, Ty, intended to start their spring break. But after hitting the ditch twice between the Canadian border and Drayton and waiting for nearly three hours to be towed out, being warm and out of their car felt like a vacation.

"When we left Winnipeg, it was cloudy but just a bit of wind, and when we got to Emerson, the winds picked up and it turned into a blizzard very, very quickly," said Maxfield, adding she and Ty were on their way to Grand Forks to meet another Winnipeg family who left Sunday.

"The tow-truck driver yelled at me for driving with my son on the highway and I should have checked the weather. I did check the weather -- they said five centimetres (of snow expected). That's nothing. What we were in, the snow was up to your knees on the highway. It was incredible."

On Monday afternoon, the North Dakota Department of Transportation and the state highway patrol closed Interstate 29 between Fargo and the Canadian border because of near-zero visibility due to blowing show, high winds and dangerous driving conditions.

U.S. Highway 2 was shut down between Devils Lake and Grand Forks, and I-94 between Bismarck and Fargo was also closed Monday afternoon.

Wintry conditions shut down Highway 17 (Trans-Canada) from the Manitoba-Ontario border to Vermilion Bay, Ont., and Highway 12 from the Trans-Canada near Steinbach to the U.S. border.

The Grand Forks Herald said the storm, forecast to dump up to 51 cm on the region, was named for Gigi Marvin, the U.S. Olympic women's hockey team member who is a Warroad, Minn., native.

The Maxfields hit the ditch the first time after a vehicle passed them, leaving them in a whiteout. They waited nearly three hours, but a tow-truck driver pulled them out after they called 911. Then 15 minutes later, they were in another whiteout when a semi blew by them and they were back in the ditch. The same driver pulled them out again.

Then they waited at the side of the road for a couple of hours for the plows and followed the plows into Drayton, where staff at a local motel, which was full, directed everyone to the town's community hall.

Pat Weber was in similar circumstances with her husband, Frank, her daughter, Shawn, and seven-year-old grandson, Justin. All are from Gladstone and were on their way to Minneapolis.

"Suddenly there was no visibility and extremely icy. We hit the shoulder and the next thing, we were in the ditch," Pat Weber said.

The Webers waited nearly three hours to be pulled out by a tow truck. "But the driver gave it to us, too. He was very upset with us," she said.

No one was hurt among the two families and both planned to continue their journey this morning after the plows came through.

The families stayed Monday night at the H.G. Johnson Memorial Hall in Drayton. About 40 people bunked there through the storm.

"We have a stove here, a fridge and a microwave, so we're all cooking. There's hotdogs, meat pies and lots of desserts, lots of things to drink. We've been playing cards, Sequence (a board game), there's Lego, a pool table and a few people were playing the piano, and upstairs there's a whole bunch of games," Maxfield said.

The same system was responsible for a storm in southeastern Manitoba. An Environment Canada spokeswoman said as much as 25 cm of snow was forecast in the Sprague area, while Red River Valley communities faced up to 15 cm.

Winnipeg was expected to get between two and four centimetres.

 

-- with files from the Grand Forks Herald

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 1, 2014 A5

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