Snacks ‘Come in Handy': National Guard Aids Stranded Motorists, College Teams on Penn. Turnpike

Some cars, trucks and buses stranded in snow on the Pennsylvania Turnpike were trapped for more than a day, amid a massive snowstorm that pummeled the East Coast over the weekend.

By Saturday afternoon, a dig-out involving the National Guard was able to free some of the more than 500 marooned vehicles that were stuck Friday night. Among the stranded were buses carrying the Duquesne men's basketball team, the gymnastics squad from Temple University and a group of 96 parishioners from an Indiana church — mostly teens.

The Temple team spent more than 24 hours in the snow.

"We're very hopeful that something will happen tonight," coach Umme Salim-Beasley said by phone from the snowed-in highway, between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, about an hour before her team's bus got moving.

Gov. Tom Wolf has a plan to rescue motorists stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The National Guard was called out to provide food and water, as well as chains and shovels while emergency workers on all-terrain vehicles checked on stranded motorists. Officials closed a 90-mile stretch of the roadway to allow maintenance workers to focus on those who were stuck.

"We haven't moved one inch in 12 hours," said Jim Ferry, coach of Duquesne University's men's basketball, whose bus got stuck around 9:15 p.m. on Friday and hadn't moved since. The team finally shoved their bus free at about 7 p.m. the next day.

Photos on social media showed trucks and buses covered in snow. Multiple people stuck in charter buses along the turnpike joined together to celebrate Catholic mass in the snow, according to photos tweeted by Kennedy Moffet.

After a few charter buses got stuck in the snow along I-76 in Pennsylvania, they joined together to celebrate Catholic mass.

Ferry said his players are running out of the leftover pizza they bought on the way home from an 86-75 win over George Mason on Friday.

"We're getting pretty hungry," he said. "We hope it starts moving pretty soon." After almost a day, they did.

And at least they had company. The team tweeted a photo, captioned, "We're not in this alone! Dukes hanging out with middle schoolers from Iowa on the bus stuck next to us."

Gov. Tom Wolf's office said the problems in Somerset County began after westbound tractor-trailers were unable to climb a hill. As traffic backed up behind them, more trucks also became unable to go up the hill, backing up all vehicles and preventing emergency crews from getting heavy-duty tow trucks to the scene and road crews from being able to clear the snow, officials said. [[287977901, C]]

Wolf said each vehicle had been checked at least once, and workers had been delivering food as well as fuel to make sure engines keep running so the heat can stay on. He said the state was working to get shelters in place quickly so people can be moved to them in buses if necessary.

Ferry said his players have remained in good spirts, passing the time with jokes and watching movies such as "Invincible."

"But you got to remember we have some big guys, so it's hard to sleep on a bus like this," the coach said.

The team sped out of Fairfax, Virginia, on Friday afternoon, escaping the storm's bullseye only to become stranded in Western Pennsylvania.

"We played the game. We won. We got on the bus. We were making great time," Ferry said.

Saturday was supposed to be on an off day for the team, with their practice regimen resuming on Sunday before the next game on Tuesday. But the plan will likely change, Ferry said.

"We just got to get these guys home and get them stretched out and get them some food," he said. "Right now we're worried about the kids."

Temple's gymnastics team was also stuck. Coach Salim-Beasley said her team usually travels with a large amount of snacks "so those came in handy," and fire department personnel brought them water, while the national guard brought military rations.

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"We always bring movies for our bus trip, and we have gone through all of them and we'll probably start watching them again," she said.

Salim-Beasley said her team's training has made spending hours on a cramped bus more bearable than it might be for others.

"We are a gymnastics team," she said. "So we can get into positions that most people won't be able to get into."

She added later that the team realized that "our situation is nowhere near as bad as others," and soon enough the team tweeted that the bus was moving again, tagging a video of the moment "tears of joy."

A group of 46 high school students from Owensboro, Kentucky, who attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Friday, was also stranded on the Turnpike for about 15 hours.

Emily Linn, who tweeted photos of the group and of the snowy mess, told NBC Owned Stations, "we are all in good spirits but frustrated. We haven't seen any emergency support. We have been stuck here for 15 hours now along with many others."

She said her group was trying to beat the storm and stay at a hotel but got stuck on the road. They stopped at a gas station 30 minutes before the traffic came to a halt so their bus was still running; they had some snacks left over. 

The church group was also returning from the March for Life in Washington, D.C. Father Shaun Whittington said they had enough gas to keep the buses running and enough DVDs to keep the kids entertained.

"We've been warm and we've had food, we've watched some movies and slept and prayed," he said. "Everybody's in good spirits."

Whittington called it a surprise, but not scary.

"We're on a pilgrimage, there's going to be suffering with that," he said. "We've got to take it as it comes."

That suffering came to an end just before 2 p.m., when Linn tweeted that the bus had moved. She retweeted another rider's video showing other stranded motorists jumping for joy as the bus inched forward, while those on the bus cheered ecstatically. 

Hundreds of drivers were also stranded on I-75 overnight after a massive winter storm dumped more than a foot of snow in south central Kentucky, clogging cars and causing multiple crashes that created a 30-mile stretch of shivering passengers.

What was supposed to be a relaxing weekend in Tennessee for Alexx and Kate Bragg turned into a grueling night of frozen gridlock along one of the country's busiest interstate highways.

By Saturday morning, I-75 southbound had been cleared and traffic was moving — albeit slowly. Northbound lanes were closed; Kentucky State Police say they anticipate opening them before noon. Trooper Lloyd Cochran said he couldn't give a figure for number of cars or people affected by the standstill but noted that no injuries were reported.

Kate Bragg was one of the stuck motorists, spending most of the night at mile marker 59 between Livingston and Mount Vernon. She and her husband, Alexx, are from Indiana and were on their way to Tennessee for a getaway weekend when they got stuck. For hours, the only people they saw were salt truck drivers begging motorists to move over so they could exit, refuel and hopefully help clear the roads. At one point, Alexx Bragg tucked in behind a salt truck and followed it on the shoulder, only to get stuck again.

"We are worried because we are from Indiana, have no concept of where we are and no idea when to anticipate getting out," Bragg told The Associated Press in an electronic message using Twitter.

Kentucky officials set up shelters for stranded motorists at churches and public schools along the Interstate, but the Braggs were too far away and could not make it to them.

"Emotional breaking point coupled with exhaustion has been met," Kate Bragg tweeted just after 11 p.m. after spending about eight hours on the highway, later adding: "Sleeping on the interstate... Don't they normally caution against this?"

Kate Bragg posted on Twitter that the couple finally got off the interstate at about 2:30 a.m., using online mapping services to find a way around the clogged interstate using side roads that had been plowed.

Traffic was slowly moving slowly Saturday along the 30-mile stretch, from Berea to London, according to Buddy Rogers, spokesman for Kentucky Emergency Management. All local hotels were booked, Cochran said. He described people still stuck on the road, some milling about at exits or leaving their cars to seek out the few stores and restaurants nearby.

About 65 people had taken shelter at the West London Baptist Church Saturday morning, according to Jenny Saylor with the Lily Volunteer Fire Department.

"They're pretty tired, but content," she said. "We've got them food and drinks and we're taking care of them pretty good."

Cathy Rainone contributed to this report. 

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