ELBERT COUNTY, Colo. -- Like many counties across Colorado Thursday, Elbert County spent the day digging out after a major blizzard blew through town on Wednesday.
At the Rattlesnake Fire Station, more than 100 stranded motorists played cards, charged their phones and shared stories about their experiences after being stuck in the snow overnight.
“We probably got jammed up around noon yesterday and the wind was howling and what I did was listened to the radio, called my wife and made sure that things are cleared off in case we could go,” said Rob Lopez. “It came in so hard and so fast and it was so terrible. I never want to do that again.”
Lopez spent 20 hours in his truck waiting for help. His truck, and many of the other high-profile vehicles on East County Line Road, didn’t get stuck in the snow in Elbert County but were trapped behind a line of cars and semi-trucks that did get stuck. He also couldn’t back up because of all the cars behind him.
“You just could not get around all of the cars off the road and, if you went off the road, you were done. I saw two people do that,” Lopez said.
He was only about two miles from his home but said it was too dangerous to try to get out of his car and walk home. He spent the night melting snow in a plastic bag to drink and ate the one protein bar and few pieces of Hershey’s kisses he had in his car.
While they waited, drivers worked together to keep each other safe, watching the tailpipes of the cars in front of them to make sure they were clear from snow so that people didn’t suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning.
One woman even posted on a community page that she had extra protein bars and water in her car just in case someone was desperate and needed help.
“Everybody was looking out for everybody and it was a community that we have where we live, and everyone was communicating via that website and asking if people needed help,” Brenda Ledbetter said.
Ledbetter was only seven miles from her home when she got stuck in the backup. A friend stayed up all night and kept calling to check on her to make sure she was safe. At one point, her tailpipes did get covered up and she started to get lightheaded, however she couldn’t get out since the snow piled up around her car, so she shut it off and only turned it on for a few minutes at a time to warm up.
Luke Iliff and his friends were heading home to Kansas City after visiting Colorado for a friend’s 21st birthday and their GPS sent them down County Line Road when they got stuck. They had no food in the car and only a little water so they melted snow to have something to drink.
“We were stuck in a car with a quarter tank of gas from about 2 o’clock to 4 this morning, so a solid 14 hours,” Iliff said.
It was the Colorado National Guard that eventually came to the rescue for the dozens of motorists on East County Line Road, picking up several at a time and then taking them to a shelter before returning.
“It was an enormous relief and you almost want to cry because you’re so happy that someone is coming to get you,” Ledbetter said.
“Thank God for them and thank God for the Rattlesnake Fire District,” Lopez said.
Along with the Colorado National Guard, the Rattlesnake Fire District spent the night trying to help people. However, even some of the ambulances and fire trucks with chains on their tires started getting stuck.
“It was very, very difficult because if we get stuck, we’re no use to anyone. It was tough because we had to pick and choose which ones we could actually get out to,” said Lloyd Standard, the assistant chief of the Rattlesnake Fire District.
The district used snow cats for medical emergencies and high-priority rescues. The Office of Emergency Management brought in food to the fire station for the motorists.
More than 24 hours after the storm hit, dozens of cars were still stuck on the road. Crews worked throughout the day to move the cars to one centralized location so that motorists could pick them up and plows could clear the road.
“These are people that live in the country and are used to these types of storms but this one was one of the worst I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here in Colorado,” Standard said. “They had to spend a cold night in their cars last night so that was punishment enough, obviously. That was tough for a lot of them. They were all very happy to end up here.”