WILLMAR — Hundreds of crashes, spin outs and stalled vehicles plagued Minnesota roads Wednesday due to high winds blowing snowfall across the state.
According to Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow, from 4 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday, the State Patrol responded to 184 crashes and 441 spin outs, 19 jackknifed semi-trailers and 133 stalled vehicles.
Multiple roads were shut down in western Minnesota due to limited visibility and stalled vehicles, including U.S. Highway 12 from DeGraff to Kerkhoven around 5 p.m. in Swift County, according to Swift County Sheriff John Holtz.
Holtz said no injuries were reported but about 30 vehicles, including semi-trucks, blocked Highway 12 Wednesday evening in near zero visibility conditions.
Some vehicles were stuck, others had run out of gas and some, like multiple Sheriff’s vehicles, were blocked in after trying to rescue people stuck on the road.
“We were out trying to get people who had been stuck there for a while because we couldn’t get out there because it’s zero visibility,” Holtz said, adding that his office doesn’t have any special ability to deal with weather conditions any more than the general public.
Holtz said he contacted DeGraff city officials to open up their activity center and food and water was coordinated to be brought to stranded motorists.
Members of the Kerkhoven, Murdock and DeGraff fire departments also responded to the blockage on Highway 12, along with multiple tow trucks.
As of 10 a.m. Thursday, about six people were still at the center, according to Holtz.
Kandiyohi County also saw some spin outs in Raymond, Willmar and New London, though no roads were closed due to the weather.
Gov. Tim Walz ordered the Minnesota National Guard Armory in Olivia to open up as a shelter for stranded motorists in Renville County as well.
By midnight, 23 people were staying at the armory, Lt. Col. Scott Hawks, the state public affairs officer for the Minnesota National Guard said.
"The hotel was full, no place for them to stay, so they stayed at the armory," Hawks said.
Olivia Police Officer Brian Stenholm, in an email provided to the West Central Tribune Thursday by City Administrator Dan Coughlin, updated city leaders on what occurred overnight.
Stenholm said, by his count, there were a total of 27 people and two dogs at the armory.
"Law enforcement was busy all throughout the night responding to stranded motorists. Highways 71 and 212 were shut down for a time last night as well," Stenholm said.
"We were also able to put the EvaClean gun to use right away as the realities of COVID in a shelter brought new challenges," Stenholm said.
Despite the treacherous driving conditions, there were still motorists on the road, some of whom had to be rescued by law enforcement and other first responders.
"I would like to praise again the (National) Guard, along with tow truck drivers and law enforcement," Stenholm said. "I had the task of picking up some stranded motorists in the county and I had trouble seeing where I was on the roadway and even being able to drive a couple miles per hour. Law enforcement were out throughout the night, when no one should have been driving at all, rescuing the stranded motorists."
“People take off and then the first thing they know, they get a mile or two miles out of town and they’re in a ditch,” Holtz said.
People also should prepare their vehicles for winter and dress for the weather, according to Holtz.
“We rescued people yesterday that only had shorts and tennis shoes and T-shirt on with a wind jacket,” Holtz said.
Drivers should remember to also turn on their lights because while driving lights may be on, those don’t turn on your rear lights.
“My chief deputy was assisting (Wednesday) and he’s on the radio to me and said ‘There are people out here driving 30-40 miles per hour in zero visibility with no lights on,” Holtz said.