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National Guard rescued 8 people stranded in Renville County blizzard

OLIVIA - Weather and road conditions were so bad in Renville County Thursday night that the Minnesota National Guard was activated to rescue motorists who were stranded in vehicles in subzero temperatures.

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The Minnesota National Guard used special equipment to rescue 8 motorists who were stranded in a blizzard Thursday evening and early Friday morning in Renville County. They were brought to the armory in Olivia.

OLIVIA – Weather and road conditions were so bad in Renville County Thursday night that the Minnesota National Guard was activated to rescue motorists who were stranded in vehicles in subzero temperatures.

Renville County Sheriff Scott Hable said in a news release that U.S. Highway 71 north of Olivia was “completely impassable by conventional vehicles,” and the National Guard Unit conducted two separate rescue missions during the night with special equipment called the SUSV Tracked Vehicle.

Hable said eight people were rescued and brought to the armory in Olivia, where a total of 18 motorists took shelter during the night.

The county was in the path of a large winter storm Thursday with high winds causing blizzard conditions, including several hours of zero or near-zero visibility for motorists.

Hable said after dark, travel became even more difficult on highways and county roads across all of Renville County with zero visibility and snow drifts forming on roads that made travel often impossible.  

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Throughout Thursday evening and into the early morning hours of Friday, he said Renville County Sheriff’s Office dispatchers took multiple reports of vehicles off of the roadway or stuck in drifts on the roadway, most of which had their occupants stranded inside.

Sub-zero temperatures and wind chills of 20 to 30 degrees below zero “made these situations extremely dangerous,” Hable said.

Officers from the Renville County Sheriff’s Office and several police departments in Renville County spent several hours attempting to reach the stranded motorists and bringing them to safety, but as local shelters in the Olivia area filled up, a request was made for assistance from the National Guard.

Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime state of emergency late Thursday and ordered the National Guard unit in Olivia to provide assistance in rescuing stranded motorists with their specialized vehicle and equipment and to provide emergency relief services by opening and staffing the Olivia armory as a shelter for stranded motorists, he said.

Hable also reported several accidents during the storm.

At 3:32 p.m. Thursday, a two-vehicle crash was reported on state Highway 4, about four miles north of Hector.  A 2014 Mazda 3, driven by Michael S. Hoium, 31, of Rochester, became stuck in a snowdrift on a bridge. Hoium’s vehicle was rear-ended by a large pickup, which then left the scene.

Hoium was assessed at the scene by the Hector Ambulance Service, had only minor injuries and was not transported to a hospital but his vehicle was a total loss.

The crash investigation is continuing, including identifying and locating the second vehicle involved.  Weather conditions at the time included snow and blowing snow with at or near zero visibility in the area.

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At 3:54 p.m. Thursday, a three-vehicle, minor crash with no injuries was reported on Highway 71, about a half-mile north of U.S. Highway 212 when visibility was near zero because of blowing snow.

Hable said one stranded motorist suffered an ankle injury while attempting to walk away from his stranded vehicle in a snow-filled ditch.

Related Topics: OLIVIA
Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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