Thursday, February 21, 2013

Kansas National Guard patrolling highways for stranded motorists

News Release

State, city and county emergency crews across Kansas are working around the clock to clear heavy snowfalls and wind-blown drifting snow.

Some areas of the state have received as much as 14 inches of snow with expectations of more before the storms finally move out of the state sometime tonight.

The Kansas Department of Transportation and the Kansas Highway Patrol initiated a phased closure of I-70 earlier in the day between Salina and Colby.

The Kansas National Guard tasked 16 Soldiers and eight Humvees to patrol I-70 to search for stranded travelers and take them to the nearest town with available hotel space.

Those Guardsmen are from the 235th Regiment in Salina and the 287th Sustainment Brigade, Hays.

Eight Kansas Guardsmen in four Humvees will also be patrolling Hwy 54 between Minneola and Pratt, and Hwy 400 from Dodge City to Bucklin. Those soldiers are from the 1st Battalion, 161st Field Artillery, Dodge City, and the 635th Regional Support Group, Hutchinson.

The consistent message from Gov. Sam Brownback and state emergency management officials has been to stay home until the storms subside and crews can clear the roads.

“Travel across the state continues to be our biggest concern,” said Brownback during an afternoon media conference call from the State Defense Building in Topeka. “Highways remain snow-packed and slick.”

“It’s just not the right conditions to get out and travel,” said the governor. “If you don’t have to travel, don’t do it.”

Brownback said if anyone absolutely had to travel, they should be prepared with water, food, blankets, a charged cell phone and other emergency supplies.

Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, the adjutant general and director of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management, also cautioned the public that travel is not the only potential hazard the snow presents.

“As we move to the next phase, after the snow moves through, many people are going to be out trying to dig out from the storm,” said Tafanelli. “A reminder to everyone about shoveling heavy snow: this can lead to overexertion. The wind chills that we’re going to be experiencing tonight through the early morning hours can lead to frostbite. These kind of conditions can lead to slips and falls with the potential for injuries. We just remind everyone to please be careful.”

Mike King, KDOT secretary, reports more than 1,000 snowplow drivers are working two shifts to keep the mainline roads open and passable.

“With the wind dying down later this evening, that’s going to give us the opportunity to finally get ahead of the game on this,” said King. “Right now, we’re just maintaining and making sure we can get emergency vehicles to where they need to go.”

Despite the heavy snows, however, the Kansas Highway Patrol reports there have been relatively few accidents and no reported fatalities, although there have numerous slide-offs and stranded vehicles.

“We are still seeing too many people driving too fast for the conditions,” said Maj. John Eichkorn, Kansas Highway Patrol.

“Troopers and local law enforcement have been working together all day to get around to those that have become stranded,” said Eichkorn.

KHP troopers are tagging abandoned vehicles with a red sticker to signify they have been checked.

Eichkorn said motorists can call for assistance by dialing *47 on their cell phone or *KTA if they are on the Kansas Turnpike.