Movement in The Gorge for those in gridlock, closure remains in effect

Traffic backed up through the night in the Virgin River Gorge on Interstate 15 along the Arizona Strip due to closure. Arizona Strip, Ariz. Dec. 8, 2013 | Photo courtesy of Sgt. John Bottoms, Arizona Highway Patrol

ARIZONA STRIP – Vehicles stuck in gridlock through the night on Interstate 15 in Virgin River Gorge of the Arizona Strip are moving slowly northbound and Arizona Highway Patrol is no longer turning cars around to evacuate them in a southbound direction.

Gridlock in the Virgin River Gorge on Interstate 15 along the Arizona Strip after a long night of no movement due to closure. Arizona Strip, Ariz. Dec. 8, 2013 | Photo courtesy of Sgt. John Bottoms, Arizona Highway Patrol | Click on image to enlarge

The sun is starting to melt some of the snow, the 18-wheeler semi-trailers are chained up and starting to move, helping to break up the ice on the road and traffic is moving, very very slowly Arizona Highway Patrol Sgt. John Bottoms said.

The AHP will not open the Interstate at Beaver Dam and Utah for north and southbound incoming traffic until the road will permit people to travel safely, Bottoms said. While he could not give an estimate, he said that the AHP hopes to be able to reopen the freeway by noon.

The Interstate was entirely closed to northbound and southbound traffic Sunday at 1 a.m. MST due to snow and ice conditions combined with 18-wheeler semitrailers sliding and colliding. See full story on the initial northbound closure here, and on the complete northbound-southbound closure here.

During the night, Arizona Highway Patrol evacuated countless vehicles, one by one and at one point in a group of 30, for example, as they were able to get them out of the gridlock, turned around and escorted out of the gorge southbound.

Because of 18-wheeler semitrailers interspersed in the gridlock, some side-by-side, it was not possible for AHP to get all of the other vehicles out during the night.

“We didn’t get nearly enough out,” Bottoms said.

As this report was published, Bottoms could not estimate the number of cars removed from the Gorge or those remaining.

Ramona Cox of St. George had a grandson on a charter bus, returning the Desert Hills Cross Country team from a meet in San Diego. The last she heard was that the bus left Mesquite at 10:30 p.m. and spent a long night worried about her grandson. This morning she said they had made contact, that “they kept warm and cozy” because it was a charter bus.

Others weren’t so warm and cozy and Bottoms said patrolmen had been trying to tend to people’s needs.

“We have been able to drive multiple patrol cars through to check on people,” Bottoms said. “We’ve been giving out fuel, water, some food and some blankets.”

Patrolmen were able to make contact with everyone stuck in the Gorge through the night, he said, one way or another, whether talking with them directly or through hand signals.

“I flew over the entire scene from Utah to the bottom of the Gorge,” he said. “We are positive that we have driven past every person that has stopped and made contact either by hand gesture or by brief conversation.”

There have been no additional injuries or collisions since the collision that occurred around midnight, Bottoms said. That collision involved a tanker truck carrying diesel fuel and another 18-wheeler semitrailer, there was no breach of the tanker or spill but the semitrailers were sliding off the road creating further blockage.

There have been a number of slide-offs, Bottom said, that have resulted in damage to cars. In some cases, people abandoned their cars as they may have been able to get rides out with other people. Statements from those will be taken by phone, Bottoms said.

The temperature on the roadway surface has come up 9 or 10 degrees this morning, Bottoms said, and as they start to see water it indicates the ice is melting.

“We’re hoping that by noon we will have all lanes open,” he said.

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Copyright St. George News, Inc., 2013, all rights reserved

Gridlock in the Virgin River Gorge on Interstate 15 along the Arizona Strip after a long night of no movement due to closure. Arizona Strip, Ariz. Dec. 8, 2013 | Photo courtesy of Sgt. John Bottoms, Arizona Highway Patrol
Gridlock in the Virgin River Gorge on Interstate 15 along the Arizona Strip after a long night of no movement due to closure. Arizona Strip, Ariz. Dec. 8, 2013 | Photo courtesy of Sgt. John Bottoms, Arizona Highway Patrol


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  • Drew December 8, 2013 at 11:11 am

    We were stuck in the gorge. We heard from a few truck drivers about the accident ahead at 8 pm. We saw 2 cops pass, not stop or offer help ever. No one directed traffic. The two cops we saw sat in their car. We helped some people with water and stuff but that was the most poorly handled traffic situation I’ve ever seen. We were stuck for 13 hours. No help or no clue what was going on…

    • tammy December 8, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      You poor thing, the cops weren’t there to hold your hand??? They didn’t give you their lunches or sing you lulubies?? They werent out directing traffic and putting themselves out on the icy road for people to run into them You mean they were waiting to be available for serious life threatening accidents?? Gosh they are so selfish.

      • Thatchick December 8, 2013 at 1:17 pm

        Aren’t you just a handful of bitchy! Obviously he was just stating that they went doing what the news says he was. Get a grip and a life.

        • tammy December 8, 2013 at 4:48 pm

          And because he didn’t get personal attention it’s the cops’ fault. Makes sense. Thanks!

      • Tom December 8, 2013 at 1:37 pm

        Maybe you should have been directing traffic, so you would have gotten hit so there would be one less person like you in this world…

        • tammy December 8, 2013 at 3:57 pm

          Yeah! That makes sense! One less person to cinpkain about how the cops “did me wrong.” One less, “it’s all about me” person out there. Good call!

          • tammy December 8, 2013 at 4:26 pm


      • Ken December 8, 2013 at 2:50 pm

        Tammy your a perfect example of no brain no headache. Glad to see your lobotomy was a success!!!!

      • nutter December 8, 2013 at 3:36 pm

        ok maybe tammy was a little intense with her reply, but i get where she’s coming from. it seems that everyone has the attitude that we are entitled to the police helping us, but we forget that they have a large burden on their shoulders that we don’t entirely understand. i happen to know a few police men who are jaded to the public, but after the disrespect and criminals they deal with, it’s understandable. for the most part, they went into law enforcement to make a difference, but it’s the bad attitudes of the public who make it hard for them. i remember back in the day when people respected the law. if an officer told them to stop, they stopped. sadly, that isn’t the case anymore and they are seen as the bad guys. i’m just trying to help shed some light on this controversial subject. it’s sad that it is so controversial. i have a feeling that the officers were doing what they could that night and making the best human call possible. it doesn’t seem like their superiors would want them out checking on individuals when so many issues were happening that night. there were a lot of abandoned vehicles all over town, i know of a friend who had a teenage son who was helped out by the police last night when he got stuck in town. it appeared that there were quote a few officers just looking around helping those who were stuck. i wish more stories like that one could be shared. sadly, it seems the only people sharing stories are those who feel they got the short end of the stick.

      • B December 8, 2013 at 3:49 pm

        Merry Christmas Tammy, maybe Santa can hand deliver some Prozac for you. You missed the line when they were handing out compassion and got in line twice for attitude. Good Luck dear. Drew, I couldn’t imagine what that must have been like in gridlock for 13 hours with no bathroom and little to eat and drink. I’m claustrophobic and I would have been one of those idiots you see on TV screaming “we’re all going to die!”. Glad you made it home safely.

        • tammy December 8, 2013 at 4:50 pm

          Maybe you missed the part where they were complaining about the cops and then humble-bragging about their efforts.

  • Bender December 8, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Anyone know the conditions on Utah hill?

    • womma December 8, 2013 at 1:33 pm

      Right on, Tammy! We have awesome police and they never get enough credit.

  • chance December 8, 2013 at 11:41 am

    utah hill is closed

  • jacob218 December 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Utah Hill or route 91 is also closed. I was also stuck. Agree that it did not seem to be handled well. I wonder if it is because AZ Has Jurisdiction and they don’t have much man power up there. thought the local guys with search and rescue in there Jeeps did a great job. hopefully I’ll get home sometime tonight.

  • Regina weeks December 8, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    KSL is reporting that northbound lanes are open now but not southbound? I hope you guys start moving soon. So sorry!

  • bob December 8, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    sounds like a real barrel of fun

  • George W December 8, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Looks like traffic is flowing in both directions though the Virgin Gorge. I can see from my house. Link to UDOT and you can see for yourself. Lots of webcams located on roads and highways throughout Utah.

  • A Noe December 8, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    We were stuck in the grid lock all night with a woman who is 7 months pregnant. There was never any news about what was actually going on or any help provided. We saw a fireman pass by us on foot and when we asked him a question he brushed us off and kept walking. I’m glad we made it home safe. I guess that’s what matters.

    • womma December 8, 2013 at 1:30 pm

      Ok I’m confused… were you expecting the fireman to carry the pregnant woman away to safety? I don’t understand why an emergency worker who is probably focusing on radio traffic was supposed to know about everyone’s individual needs and put you first. I can’t believe how many people are ripping on the first responders. They are doing their best and their families are praying for their safety while they help others everyday. Give them a break.

      • bender December 8, 2013 at 3:05 pm

        I’m guessing “A Noe” wanted to know what was going on ahead and when the road might be open. Not an unreasonable question for anyone to pose, let alone someone stuck in the cold in the dark and way preggers.
        Enough first responder worship. They’re just guys doing a job that needs to be done, in most cases no more heroically than the school lunch lady, or the clerk at the convenience store. They are not above reproach or at the least being questioned.

        • nutter December 8, 2013 at 4:04 pm

          i agree that would be a scary unfortunate situation. but comparing them to the lunch lady is just sad. the lunch lady’s loved ones probably don’t pray for her safety when she leaves for work. they probably don’t mind too much either when she comes home late from work or doesn’t call them to put their minds at ease. i just wish people had more respect for our fire fighters and law enforcement.

          • Bender December 8, 2013 at 4:46 pm

            Nutter, most of us are hard working stiffs grinding through the week and putting bread on the table. First responders merit no more, or less, respect than any other profession… Including the lunch ladies. They also need to be at least as accountable since they can hold people’s lives in their hands. What I am hearing from some in this thread is “don’t you dare criticize first responders because they are heroes.” Sometimes they are, but sometimes they screw up and some times they do a lackluster job. Since they are are on my payroll as a taxpayer I reserve the right to call them out as needed.
            I don’t know if the debacle in the gorge could have been handled better but I am sure willing to listen to the first hand accounts of the people that spent the night to see if next time the cops/firefighters/etc can do it better.

          • Truth December 8, 2013 at 8:44 pm

            Bender +1 (Couldn’t agree more.)

  • Truth December 8, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    It’s amusing how so many are quick to judge these people who are saying that the story is inaccurate. First hand witnesses say they were not contacted when the PR officer said they were. Let’s not judge the “hero’s” because us poor “public” have no idea how tough they have it. Never question anything our superiors do because we can never understand right? Question the intentions of those in need before you question the “first responders.” This is too often the attitude of our PUBLIC servants. Continue to defend your (friend, family member, spouse, or comrade) all you want. We “private sector” smucks have a right to our opinion as well.

  • womma December 8, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    So you’re saying that only friends or relatives of first responders defend them? False. Some people just have respect for what they stand for and the sacrifices they make. I am grateful for them.

  • tammy December 8, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    Maybe you missed the part where they were complaining about cops and then humble-bragging about their efforts.

  • tammy December 8, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    And because he didn’t get personal attention it’s the cops’ fault. Yeah, totally makes sense. Thanks!

  • yolanda December 8, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    So, let me get this straight… You see on your little weather apps on your phone and on the news for 3 days prior that there is a severe storm warning and yet instead of leaving early or waiting for the storm to pass, you trudge out into the gorge and expect everything to be all hunky-dory. Then when everything gets shut down, you expect the government employees to come bail you out of your stupid decision and when they can’t, you throw out your entitled “I’m a tax payer, I pay your wages, I’m entitled, do as I say dammit” attitude. It’s not hard to spot a liberal…

  • ladybugavenger December 8, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    Wow, these comments are amazing. I want to play too. I read the story and got the impression all was under control and communication was either verbally or handshake….duh duh duhhhh (music plays) then the truth comes out by an actual person or people that were actually stuck there and then people get all defensive about a situation they weren’t even involved in. wow, the PR people get paid to make situation positive (in other words lie). That’s why we the people must speak up and tell the truth. Like the people that were actually stuck in the gorge did

    • tammy December 8, 2013 at 6:37 pm

      300 cars were stuck that night. I’m sure the cops had plenty of time and resources on them for every person out there. Again, grateful for what they did do.

  • Ryan White December 8, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    I talked to one AZ trooper. He offered me water. He also told me there are just a handfull of cops on the strip. I think given the few officers out there they did great. I do not fault the cops for me being stuck in traffic. I blame the people who caused the accidents. I would also say the bad weather had more of an effect on the traffic than the officers out working.

    • Bender December 8, 2013 at 10:21 pm

      Mohave county seat is in Kingman Arizona . A long way from the gorge. My impression is that the state of Arizona does a pretty good job of taking care of an expensive piece of infrastructure (the freeway through the gorge) which is far removed from almost all of the state’s population and used by hardly any Arizona citizens. I don’t know what kind of interstate/interagency procedures are in place for events in the gorge which would allow Washington county/Clark county/Utah/Nevada to cooperate and help. I hope this is the nudge that inspires the tri-state authorities to review what can be changed in the future.

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