A semi-driver was killed overnight on I-80 and more than 100 stranded motorists were transported to safety in the darkness, the Nebraska State Patrol said.
The Sidney Public Schools provided buses to help in the rescue. The buses were escorted to the scene by patrol vehicles and snow plows, NSP spokesman Cody Thomas said.
The law officers went door to door, knocking on all vehicles and rescuing the occupants in freezing temperatures in the darkness. Those rescued were taken to Light Memorial Presbyterian Church in Sidney or to a motel of their choice.
There were two major areas where vehicles were trapped on I-80 in the Sidney area. One section was more than 1.5 miles long and the other section was estimated to have at least 50 vehicles.
In addition to the large-scale rescues, troopers responded to more than 80 calls for help from motorists during the storm, as of 10:45 a.m. CDT Saturday.
Thomas did not know how many motorists were injured, but most of the stranded cars weren’t involved in an accident but were stuck on the road, behind accidents.
The death occurred in the median near the Chappell exit. Semi-truck driver Rollo Ward, 61, of Idaho Falls, Ida. lost control of his eastbound truck, slipped into the median and hit another semi-truck that was already there, Thomas said. Ward was pronounced dead at the scene.
As of 10:45 a.m. Saturday CDT, I-80 remained closed to westbound traffic from Grand Island to the Wyoming state line. Eastbound I-80 was also closed from the Wyoming state line to Ogallala.
Road conditions remained poor to impassible in many parts of central to western Nebraska, Thomas said.
Near Sidney, troopers worked with the Cheyenne County Sheriff’s Office, Sidney Police Department, Sidney Public Schools, Cheyenne County Emergency Management, the Nebraska Department of Roads and others to clear the stranded vehicles, Thomas said.
Gov. Pete Ricketts issued an emergency declaration Saturday morning to authorized state funds for the response, as well as repairs to electrical lines across the state.
The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency is working to get a temporary communications tower to Region 26 after its dispatch tower was toppled due to 60 mph winds.
Blaine, Garfield, Greeley, Loup, Sherman, Thomas, Valley and Wheeler counties make up Region 26.
Road closures, including I-80 and U.S. Highways 30 and 20, have sent motorists to shelters. Big Springs and Sidney opened emergency shelters, Ricketts said.
“Road conditions are still not safe across the state and travel is not recommended,” said NEMA Assistant Director Bryan Tuma Saturday. “Stay home and be safe.”
Keep up-to-date on other road closures by calling 511, visiting 511.Nebraska.gov, or by downloading the 511 smartphone app.