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Motorists sheltered in west central Minn. towns, deputies rescue several stranded in Monday’s storm

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

OLIVIA — Communities along U.S. Highway 212 in Renville County hosted roughly 100 stranded motorists in community centers and a church as winds created blizzard conditions Monday night.

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Renville County Sheriff Scott Hable said that four squad cars were kept busy without a break from about 8 p.m. to midnight, responding to calls from about a dozen stranded vehicles.

Officers braved near white-out conditions to reach the stranded motorists, and by 11 p.m., snow drifts that stopped all but four-wheel drive vehicles, he noted.

The communities of Hector, Olivia, Renville and Fairfax all opened up shelters to accommodate stranded motorists. In Hector, the Renville County Emergency Trailer was opened to provide cots for 30 people who spent the night at the community center, according to Barb Hoyhtya, city administrator.

Cushions from church pews had to do in Renville, where Sister Donna Wermus took inspiration from the miracle of the seven loaves and fish when 17 people showed up at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church for the night. She turned a pound of fresh hamburger, rice and canned tomatoes into a hot dish for the hungry guests.

“I threw it together. It worked,’’ she said, laughing.

She had fresh-baked corn bread waiting for them Tuesday morning. This time, she ran out.

The Olivia Community Center hosted about 50 guests after hotels in the community filled. They watched TV, played ping pong, or entertained themselves with their smart phones, noted Olivia Police Chief Derek Lee.

Hoyhtya said most of those taking refuge in Hector were headed west, returning to homes or college everywhere from Marshall to Brookings, S.D.

Many of the motorists traveling west on U.S. Highway 212 did not know the road was closed until they reached Olivia, where the Transportation Department’s flashing lights and police officers alerted them.

There were two semi-trailer drivers stuck south of Renville. They spent the night in heated cabs, said Sheriff Hable.

In Yellow Medicine County, sheriff’s officers came to the aid of a semi-trailer driver who lost sight of the road and got stuck on the wrong side of it between Granite Falls and Clarkfield. Officers also responded to stranded motorists elsewhere due to white-out conditions, said Chief Deputy Wayne DeBlieck.

Reaching the stranded motorists was difficult, he noted. “If they can’t see, we can’t see either.’’

Lac qui Parle County Sheriff Rick Halvorson said five people were brought to the city hall and a church in Dawson to spend the night.

Chippewa County officers dealt first with a jack-knifed semi-trailer rig between Clara City and Raymond in the afternoon, but were fortunate to have no major issues during the night, according to Sheriff Stacy Tufto.

Officers and a large V-plow truck made their way Tuesday during the day to a farm place near Minnesota Highway 40. A woman there went into early labor, and the plow was needed so that the ambulance could make its way down the driveway to reach the home.

Sister Donna said this was the second time this winter the church in Renville opened its doors to stranded motorists. She wasn’t expecting the guests on Monday, but said she had no qualms about opening the doors and leaving on the light for them. She had received the same kindness once herself. “I’m not leaving anybody outside in danger,’’ she said.

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