Snow-Bound N.Y. Highway Reopens for Traffic

Trucks stand still along the New York State Thruway after a five mile wide band of lake-effect snow dumped more than two feet of snow and closed a 16-mile stretch of the road Dec. 2, 2010 in Buffalo, New York.
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Authorities say the New York State Thruway has reopened near Buffalo more than a day after it was shut down by a lake-effect snowstorm that stranded hundreds of motorists.

State police Sgt. Gregory Peron says Interstate 90 reopened in both directions shortly after 6 a.m. Friday. The highway's westbound lanes had been closed between exits 50 and 55, while the eastbound side was closed between interchanges 57 and 50.

The last of hundreds of people stranded on the highway since late Wednesday night were evacuated by Thursday night.

Long stretches of the Buffalo-area Thruway were closed around 3 a.m. Thursday after a truck jackknifed in the storm, causing traffic to back up for miles and stranding hundreds of people in their vehicles.

Authorities plan to review emergency procedures. Michael R. Fleischer, executive director of the New York State Thruway Authority, told the Buffalo News that although the sudden storm overwhelmed officials late Wednesday "those people who could have been and wanted to be evacuated should have been."

A Lake Erie-fed storm that began Wednesday and continued through Thursday buried parts of Buffalo and some suburbs under more than 2 feet of snow. Downtown Buffalo was largely spared. Dozens of schools canceled classes.

Fliescher joined authority vice chairwoman Donna J. Luh in calling for a "post-situation review" and new plans to make sure the situation doesn't happen again, the newspaper said. Both called the incident unacceptable.

CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano reports some drivers were still stuck on the interstate early Friday morning, despite earlier promises from police to have everyone on their way by Thursday evening.

Authorities evacuated some motorists who chose to abandon their snowbound cars for the warmth of a local shelter, says Quijano, and rescuers also brought some trapped motorists food and water.

Among those who spent a long tedious night in their vehicle were basketball players from Buffalo's D'Youville College, headed back from night games in Pittsburgh when their bus got stuck. It was particularly uncomfortable for the tall ballers, who were crammed into their bus seats without even a movie onboard to pass the time.

Jack Geiselman, who was stranded for 14 hours in 32-degree weather, took it all in stride.

"I tend not to be a ranter-and-raver about things and the point is, it's nothing I have any control over," the 60-year-old semi-retired civil engineer said. "I guess the way I look at it is, it's over. I guess stuff happens. It's not the end of the world."

Geiselman was traveling in a Honda Civic from Keene, N.Y., to Cleveland with his black lab Boomer to help his daughter get her house ready for a baby due between Christmas and New Year. He had with him a sleeping bag and plenty of warm clothing and gas. He said state troopers came by with coffee and food for people in cars.

Emergency crews on ATVs passed out water and protein bars, and buses picked up motorists and delivered them to a shelter at a senior citizen center.

State Police had no reports of medical emergencies, although one older motorist who uses oxygen was among the stranded and was taken to safety, said Capt. Michael Nigrelli.

Not to be discouraged, two truck drivers who left their tandems idling in the morning tramped through the snow for about half a mile to pick up a breakfast sandwich and coffee off the highway. They seemed almost cheerful despite the hit on their livelihood.

"The wheels are not moving and we're making nothing," said Don Lanphere, 51, a trucker for 32 years who was hauling dog food. "The only guys making money are the plow operators."

"I had the radio on listening," said Curt Doverspike, 40, a trucker from Jamestown. "They said we should be getting out soon. Nothing ever happened so we just went to bed, woke up this morning. We're just kind of used to it."

He said regular travelers were venting their frustrations but the truck drivers were calmer.

"There's traffic jams, accidents all the time," Doverspike said. "You just get used to it. I guess it's easier for us than those in the cars because they get frustrated. We have a bed. If we get bored, we lay down and go to bed."

Nigrelli said the combination of fast-falling snow and the large number of commercial vehicles - many of which had to be towed out after the snow piled up around them - made re-opening the road slow-going.

"Unfortunately, that's not something that can be undone very quickly," he said.

Some truckers left the road to find refuge at truck stops, parking lots and city streets, but most kept their rigs parked on the highway, especially the tandem drivers.

Matt Welling was hauling a double tractor-trailer full of groceries when traffic came to a standstill. He spent the night "sitting back, playing a little Solitaire on the computer, taking a nap," the Wegmans driver said after more than eight hours stuck on the road.

"I'm pretty chilly, hungry. A nice cup of coffee would do pretty well right now," he said by cell phone.

Driving restrictions were in place in southern Buffalo and suburban Cheektowaga, Depew, Lancaster and West Seneca, where bands of snow hung stubbornly overhead.

In Cattaraugus County on New York's southwestern edge, flooding was the problem following heavy rain. Two emergency shelters were opened, in Olean and Portville, as the Allegheny River reached moderate flood stage. Between 50 and 100 homes were affected, said Stephanie Timblin, spokeswoman for the county's Office of Emergency Services.