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The North Bend Eagle


Snowstorm parks Benders on interstate

by Mary Le Arneal
Published 1/12/11

You read about it on the news, thinking ‘glad it’s not me.’ It’s one of those things that happens occasionally, but always to someone else. This time it hit home.

During Sunday’s [Jan. 9, 2011] snow storm a dozen or so accidents on Interstate 80 closed a section of the east-bound traffic between Gothenburg and Cozad for most of the afternoon. Thirty-one North Bend area residents and friends were in a 44-foot long motor coach coming home from Jerrad and Cami Buller’s wedding in Gering. Their progress was stopped at 12:25 p.m. when they came into the vicinity of the accidents. The trip out on Friday was eight hours filled with snacks, beverages, games, movies and good conversation.

Stranded busThis bus and its 31 North Bend area passengers was stuck on I-80 for five hours Sunday [Jan. 9, 2011].

Saturday saw the group on a trip up the Scottsbluff Monument to enjoy the magnificent view and attending the wedding festivities.

The snow storm was predicted for Sunday and departure time was moved up from 10 a.m. to 7 a.m. in hope beating the storm.

The departure was uneventful. Passengers felt very safe in the huge motor coach, with all the comforts of home: food, beverage, a DVD player, a bathroom.

When the bus swerved to miss a stopped truck, it was realized that the bus would be stationary for a while. Card games were played as the group watched two herds of cows in a field beside the Interstate head for a creek bed. Those in cars came to the bus to use the facilities. Food and drinks were shared. Jokingly, there was talk about cannibalism and who would be eaten first if necessary.

The road department was called and passengers were told road workers were doing all that they could. As the hours wore on, the panic began to set in. Not the type of panic of impending disaster, more like the negative thoughts of spending the night on the bus and missing work the next day. It was felt something, anything, had to be done to change the situation.

The driver, Tim, had been out to survey the situation and had some ideas of what to do. A number of men in the group went outside. They first considered getting the bus to turn around. After pacing off the length of the bus, width of the road, and noting the dip in the median, that option was ruled out.

Knowing that something needed to be done before dark, the men discussed the situation and came up with another plan, backing the bus up to a crossing in the median about a quarter of a mile back that passenger cars had been using to head back west. The cars leaving had opened up space for movement. Men from the group went to the semi-truck drivers surrounding the bus and told them the plan. Most of the truck drivers had turned their trucks off and were relaxing in their cabs. They were all willing to cooperate. The trucks in front had to move up to form a double row, the truck next to the bus pulled around and continued filling the two lanes in front. In all about ten trucks had to move forward or to the right to open up the left lane for the bus to back up. One truck driver stopped as he was passing us and asked if the bus passengers needed water.

With the lane cleared behind the bus, Tim skillfully backed the bus the quarter-mile to the turn around. A collective breath was held as the bus drove over the snow covered dirt lane in the median. A cheer was let out as the bus drove onto Interstate 80 West. It was 5:30 p.m., five hours since traffic haulted. The back of the bus was humming as women called home to tell worried family that they were on their way home.

The bus drove back about five miles and got off at the Gothenburg exit. A quick stop was made at the first fast food restaurant. As Tim said, we needed to get away from the situation for a few minutes.

Cell phones and Internet revealed that Highway 30 was open. Movement was slow, but there was movement. As the bus started out from Gothenburg on Highway 30, a long stretch of lights from semis still “parked” on the interstate could be seen.

The last 200 miles home took a little more than six hours. Tim said the windows kept icing up, so stops were needed to clean off the windshield wipers.
Back in North Bend at midnight, 17 hours after beginning their eventful bus ride, the Benders were thankful for their safety, the skillful bus driver, the bathroom, cell phones and the good friends with whom they had shared this experience.

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