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Wil Wenberg of Willmar drives his snow tractor up and down the full length of his block Friday to clear the sidewalks in northwest Willmar following the overnight blizzard. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Renville County towns open doors to 134 stranded motorists

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OLIVIA — Communities in Renville County hosted 134 motorists stranded by last night’s winter storm after motel rooms had filled.

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The National Guard Armory in Olivia put cots out for 57 of the stranded motorists, while other communities opened the doors of community centers. Hector was host to 45 stranded motorists, according to the Renville County Sheriff’s Department.

Many of the motorists were transported to the shelters by law enforcement officers after their vehicles went into ditches or were stopped by drifting snow. Soldiers with the National Guard also used the Armory’s tracked vehicle to reach some stranded motorists.

Olivia Police Chief Derek Lee said motorists faced dangerous conditions on the roads, and that U.S. Highways 212 and 71 leading into town were impassable at points.

Motorists who reached Olivia and realized the danger of continuing filled the last of the available rooms somewhere between 5:30 and 6 p.m., according to manager Dan Church. Once the 32-room Sheep Shedde Inn filled, staff steered 30 or more rooms worth of motorists to the Armory for a place to stay.

   Those finding safety at the Armory included travelers from all directions, Lee said. Two families of seven and a mother traveling with her three children were among those who needed a place to say.

The stranded motorists were on the way to their destinations Friday morning. In some cases, they were transported by plow or tow truck to their stranded vehicles, which needed to be moved so that snow removal could get underway.

This was the second major snow event this season when stranded motorists were offered shelter in the Armory. In the previous storm, more than 80 people stayed overnight, Lee said.

In Olivia, the local churches work with the city police, Renville County Sheriff’s Department and National Guard to provide the accommodations at the Armory. Disposable blankets are provided the stranded motorists, and quilts and meals are also made available to those in need.

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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