ST. GEORGE — Interstate 15 was closed for over 12 hours last night on a section between the Nevada, Arizona and Utah borders known as the Virgin River Gorge. St. George News has received reports from many of the folks who were stranded in their vehicles overnight. Although hundreds of vehicles were stuck on the road, plus many who slid off the road, no injuries have been reported, and all lanes have been opened as of approximately 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
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One of the vehicles stranded was a school bus full of 56 athletes, parents and coaches from the Desert Hills High School Cross Country team. Parents and Coaches of the team reported that the bus slid off the road just past the Cedar Pocket exit and became stranded in a long line of cars for over 12 hours through the night. Although the bus had enough gas to keep the engine running and the heater on all night, some of the other stranded vehicles on the roadway had to turn their vehicles off to preserve gas. For a video interview of the coach and a team member, click here.
On Sunday morning, the coach had some of the players gather extra blankets, and jackets for other drivers in their vicinity who had to shut their cars off, Scott Sandburg, a sophomore on the team, said. The team supplied blankets, jackets and food to a few cars, one of which was an elderly couple and another was a mom with a young child and a newborn who were cold and running low on food, Coach Logan Fielding said.
Many of the people stranded worked together throughout the night and morning to to help each other stay warm and get their vehicles turned around in the icy conditions, Fielding said. The team members were not able to make phone calls, because of bad reception but they were able to sporadically send text messages home to family members. Once the Gorge was open again, the team’s bus proceeded to Desert Hills High School where it was met by anxious parents and friends.
From St. George, Dixie High School and Pine View High School each had wrestling teams returning from matches Saturday. They too got stuck in the Gorge, reportedly in a traditional school bus.
Besides the efforts of the wrestling team, there were Arizona Highway Patrol officers and Washington County Sheriff Search and Rescue members working throughout the canyon to help stranded drivers. These rescue teams were able to check on all of the vehicles, Commander Casey Lofthouse of the Washington County Search and Rescure said. The Search and Rescue team sent out 4×4 vehicles to pass out gas, water, and information throughout the night. Most semitrailer drivers slept in their trucks while rescue teams slowly managed to turn around many of the compact cars stuck in the northbound lanes and direct them back towards Mesquite, Nevada.
One of the many vehicles stranded was occupied by Misty and Troy Hamilton. After being stranded in the Gorge for over 10 hours, they were evacuated back towards Mesquite Sunday morning. The Hamiltons took a back road, Highway 91, and arrived in St. George by approximately 10 a.m., Misty Hamilton’s mom, Peggy Wardle, said. They reported that the condition of the Gorge was pretty scary and multiple vehicles had slid off the road, Wardle said. Even the drive back on Highway 91 was slow.
Headed southbound from the Utah side, there was a log jam of cars and semitrailers as well. One of the semitrailer drivers that had been diverted off the Interstate was Jason D. Phillips, a truck driver from Wisconsin. With over 11 years of truck driving experience, this sort of thing is not unusual to Phillips, he said. Early Sunday morning, he was driving southbound toward California when they diverted his semitrailer, as he was passing through the SunRiver area. Phillips said he’s seen much worse in other areas of the country but never anything like this in this particular area.
“This is not uncommon,” Phillips said, “if they have a bad storm or a bad wreck … sometimes you’ll be sitting for a day or two before they open the road back up again.”
Even though other parts of the country see storms like this often, this blizzard was very unusual for this area and proved to be too much to keep the Interstate open.
“The road basically closed itself,” Lofthouse said.
The Interstate in both directions had been officially closed by the Arizona Highway Patrol at 1 a.m. MST Sunday. Sunday morning, rescuers had many of the stranded semitrailer’s attach chains to their truck tires and head north. Utah Department of Transportation and Utah Highway Patrol also joined the effort Sunday morning, UDOT Roadway Operations Manager Todd Abbott said. UDOT with a snow plow and both UDOT and UHP assisting in traffic control.
By 12:30 p.m. Sunday, the Interstate was clear and the majority of the vehicles were out of the canyon.
Overall, this area received nearly 10 straight hours of snow leading up to the closure of the Interstate. The area also received five hours of below freezing temps between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m. according to the National Weather Service Forecasting Office.
St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic, and reporters Shane Brinkerhoff and Drew Allred contributed to this report.
Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.
- St. George Municipal Airport is open, SkyWest-Delta flights resume operation
- Sunny day after the snow; STGnews Photo Gallery
- News short: I-15 through Virgin River Gorge is open
- Movement in The Gorge for those in gridlock, closure remains in effect
- Breaking News: I-15 through The Gorge completely closed, evacuation plan
- Dixie cities not equipped for snow removal, icy roads impassable; avoid driving
- I-15 incidents Millard south through AZ Strip; NB lanes closed on the Black Ridge
- Snow incidents SR-18; photo gallery
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