The Town of Eden has found itself right in the heart of the Southtowns Blizzard of 2014, and it’s far from pretty.
From stranded motorists rescued overnight by volunteer firefighters on their personal snowmobiles, to abandoned cars, to complete whiteouts with zero visibility along Route 62 and even some brazen motorists thumbing their noses at a driving ban, the town has felt the brunt of the harshest of what Old Man Winter dealt out this week. And more is promised to come.
Police officers on Tuesday were actually guarding a stretch of Route 62 to try their best to deter stubborn motorists who wanted try to muscle their way through the driving ban. Police had reports of cars stuck in the middle of the road, and drivers walking away. In one instance, a town police car was nearly hit head-on by a motorist who was then ticketed.
“It’s a huge safety concern,” said an Eden police dispatcher, noting that cars were reported in ditches along Route 75 and Eckhardt Road, as well.
And even though at midday today the skies were mostly bright and visibility was improving in some areas of town, the frigid temperatures remain and blowing, drifting snow with strong winds continued to challenge residents, police, drivers and snowplows.
Snowplow drivers, police and fire crews were preparing to get ready later today for when the blizzard conditions are expected to return to the Southtowns from the city. Nearly round-the-clock snowplowing was the norm in many areas.
Eden Police Sgt. Shawn Bishop called it “the most treacherous” conditions he’s ever seen in his 23 years of police work in the town. The biggest problem area – a well-known one for locals and Eden natives – is the stretch of Route 62 along the open farm fields from Shadagee Road in Eden to where Routes 62 and 75 meet at a prominent spot known as Henry’s Corners.
That corner is a guaranteed trouble spot for drivers who regularly battle whiteouts and blowing, drifting snow across open farms – routinely leading drivers to use their hazard warning lights to drive through the area. The snow drifts were so high that they hid buried cars and were a challenge for state plowing crews to manage. Even that wasn’t helping Monday or today.
The lack of visibility led to a stretch of Route 62 being barricaded by police this morning. The driving ban was expected to continue until at least midnight going into Wednesday.
Conditions got so bad overnight that police had difficulty even telling where cars were stuck in ditches, and in some cases, vehicles were abandoned by their drivers and have since been towed and impounded.
“It’s a treacherous mess. Today was probably the most dangerous I’ve seen in 23 years,” Bishop said.
At one point overnight, Eden Highway Superintendent Ronald Maggs called his plow drivers back in because they couldn’t see to even plow safely. It also gave the plows a chance to thaw out before heading back out to tackle the job of clearing 100 lane miles of road in Eden and another 30 lane miles the town plows for Erie County.
“The wind is what really kills you … There were cars everywhere, all over town, that were off the road, but Henry’s Corners was the worst,” Maggs said. “If it were just the snow, it would be business as usual.”
“We almost got hit head-on by another driver,” Bishop said, noting police cited the driver with a ticket for driving during a ban and disobeying a flag person or police officer.
A little past noon, Bishop had just come in from patrol and was clearly aggravated by motorists not abiding by the driving ban and closed roads. Police even stationed a car at Shadagee Road and Route 62 and were citing numerous drivers along the closed stretch – issuing more than 20 tickets by lunchtime.
“I’m wearing a full neon green suit and almost got hit standing out in it,” Bishop said. “You can’t see.”
Monday evening tested the will of many in town, and Eden firefighters drove their personal snowmobiles around the main roads to look for stranded motorists and anyone who was injured. They transported them back to the main Eden and East Eden Fire Halls, which were set up as warming centers. About eight to 10 travelers spent the night at the Eden Fire Hall on East Church Street where crews set up cots and offered food and warm coffee through morning. Another handful of travelers spent the night at the East Eden Fire Hall.
Eden Fire Chief Matthew Colvin, also a highway worker who had been out snowplowing for hours, praised the coordinated efforts of emergency service workers, firefighters and town crews.
“Firemen used their personal snowmobiles and brought people to the fire hall and got spare gear for others to keep warm,” said Colvin, who, as of noon today himself had been up since 5 a.m. Monday without a break.
Police Officer Nicholas Blasz, who worked the overnight shift, led a caravan of motorists who could not see Monday night from Henry’s Corners back to the Fire Hall to spend the evening. Travelers also were helped from the East Eden and North Boston road areas. A girl found in a car was taken to the East Eden Fire Hall, and Blasz helped an out-of-town man on his way to Buffalo whose rented truck became stuck in a ditch along Sisson Highway.
There was even a report of a 26-year-old pregnant woman in labor on Derby Road and highway crews finished plowing a path for her but then received word that aid had been refused. Authorities today were uncertain of her status.
Volunteer Lawtons firefighter Chris Thomas, who lives in North Collins, helped a couple of stranded cars that had gone off Route 62 late Monday near Cain Road. “I’m pretty sure they would have frozen,” he said of the people he helped, had he not been passing by en route to go help his parents who were stuck in a ditch in Hamburg, but ended up getting out on their own,
“I did my good deed of the day,” said Thomas, who works at the Eden Tim Hortons. “This is probably one of the worst storms I’ve seen in a while.”
Initially, Thomas said he thought he came upon a three-car accident in the ditch, but it ended up being three separate vehicle problems. “I turned on my (emergency) blue light,” he recalled, noting that one woman he helped was stuck inside her van because the doors had frozen shut. “I forced open the front passenger side door to help her.”
Another car contained a correctional officer, who had help from a friend, Thomas said. But the other car he helped contained four men from Buffalo whose car battery had died. “I had them get in my car. We called the sheriff’s department, but they couldn’t help in enough time,” he said. “I brought the guys to Tim Hortons (in Eden).”
As two Eden emergency service workers came into the coffee shop for coffee, they then took the four men to the Eden Fire Hall for the night.
“It is blinding snow, and cold and wind,” said Robert Stickney, Eden’s emergency manager, in summing up the conditions Eden is experiencing.”If people get porky, they are going to get a ticket,” he said of the driving ban.
Maggs said near-zero visibility plagued the town for most of the night, and his crews had to pull off the roads a few times in the course of Monday evening because it was so bad they could not see.
Eden’s Tim Hortons was closing this afternoon and planned to donate all of its food, baked goods and coffee to the Eden Fire Hall, said manager Steve Wann.