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Blowing snow wreaked havoc across the region Monday for many commuters, some of whom were forced to take refuge in National Guard armories after state highways were closed. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton

Travelers find shelter at area Guard armories

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

OLIVIA -- By 3 p.m. Monday travelers blinded by whiteout conditions and faced with the closure of state highways began arriving at the Olivia National Guard Armory.

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By 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, the last traveler sought shelter at the armory where 73 people, including families and elderly couples, slept in the gym.

"It was quite a zoo for a while," said Sgt. Phil Wohlman, one of two Guard employees who scurried to find cots and blankets for the travelers caught in blizzard conditions that swept most of the state.

"We had people from Watertown, the Twin Cities and people even as close as Danube that didn't make it home," Wohlman said.

The armory ran out of cots and made two trips to the Red Cross in town to get more blankets.

"I think they there were just pretty happy to have a place to stay because the hotels were full," said Wohlman. The temporary guests played cards or did Sudoku puzzles before going to sleep in the gym, he said.

Besides the Olivia armory, 19 stranded motorists spent the night at the National Guard Training and Community Center in Marshall, six were at the Montevideo Training and Community Center, 40 were at the armory in Luverne and 24 in St. James.

After closing early Monday, many area schools were two hours late Tuesday to give state and highway crews a chance to clear the roads.

State offices in 14 southern Minnesota counties were closed until 10 a.m. Tuesday and some roads in southern Minnesota were still closed early Tuesday morning.

Most of the roads in west central Minnesota remain in fair driving condition, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Despite efforts to get people off the roads, the State Patrol responded to 180 property damage crashes, 36 personal injury crashes (none serious), 230 vehicles off the roadway and 188 motorist assists from 6 a.m. Monday to 6 a.m. Tuesday.

In the nine-county metro area there were 93 property damage accidents, 16 personal injury crashes and 59 vehicles off the roadway.

Now that the snow has stopped, Minnesotans can look forward to continued cold temperatures with lows below zero and expected highs in the single digits.

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