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Snowstorm traps father, daughter on I-70 for more than 12 hours

Richard and Rachel Bibbee began their trip from Baltimore airport at about 4:30 p.m.

January 27, 2011|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • Rachel Bibbee and her dad, Richard Bibbee, spent Wednesday night in the car stuck in traffic on Interstate 70.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

What began as a routine trip from the Baltimore area to Hagerstown turned into a nightmare for a Washington County father and daughter who were stranded most of the night on Interstate 70 with hundreds of other motorists.

Richard and Rachel Bibbee said they began their trip from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and spent more than 12 hours on I-70 before making it to their home off Leitersburg Pike at about 6 a.m. Thursday.

"There were miles and miles of cars completely backed up," said Rachel Bibbee, 22. "A lot of people ran out of gas, and other people got out and just started walking. I don't know where they were going."

Rachel flew in to BWI from Indianapolis, where she had gone to see her brother, Army Capt. Shannon Bibbee, before he left for a tour of duty in the Middle East.

Richard Bibbee, 52, picked up Rachel at the airport in Linthicum, Md., at about 4:30 p.m. He said the trip was routine until they hit Mt. Airy, Md., where a wrecked tractor-trailer backed up traffic.

Rachel Bibbee said they were stuck near Mt. Airy until 10:30 p.m., when traffic started moving again. They made it to Frederick, Md., and pulled off at a convenience store to use the rest-room and get some drinks.

Then they pulled back onto I-70 and ran into another problem  about four miles east of the Myersville, Md., exit, where traffic came to another standstill.

The Bibbees sat there from about 11:50 p.m. Wednesday to 4 a.m. Thursday, Richard Bibbee said, as workers removed dozens of tractor-trailers that were stuck on Braddock Mountain.

He said he and his daughter didn't get cold because they had a full tank of gas and were able to run the heater.

Maryland State Police made the stranded motorists pull to each side of the interstate to allow snow plows to get through, Rachel Bibbee said. Authorities then directed westbound traffic east so they could take another route home.

Rachel Bibbee said they backtracked to U.S. 15 North and eventually went to Waynesboro, Pa., where they traveled south to their house off Leitersburg Pike. They arrived home at about 6 a.m. Thursday.

"I came in, had a breadstick and went to bed," Rachel Bibbee said.

Richard Bibbee said he got a few hours of sleep, then prepared to drive to work in Baltimore, where he is a district manager for Rent-A-Center.

He said he had a laptop computer in his Subaru Outback and wondered why he could find no information from news agencies about the traffic jam on I-70. They had Internet service, but could find nothing related to their situation on the radio or news websites, he said.

Richard Bibbee said he believed the authorities needed to do a better job getting the word out to media outlets so they could inform the public.

"Somewhere or other there has to be a (news) release," Richard Bibbee said. "I was using all the technology in the world last night but I couldn't get any answers."

Information about I-70 at South Mountain and U.S. 15 at Point of Rocks in Frederick County being shut down was posted on The Herald-Mail website at www.herald-mail.com at about 8 p.m., but authorities did not provide information about when the roads might reopen.

Throughout Wednesday night, Maryland State Police periodically sent out news releases informing the media about road closures, such as the one at Braddock Mountain, but that information did not include what steps were being taken to help stranded motorists or how long it might be before the roads reopened.

State police spokesman Gregory Shipley said the Maryland State Highway Administration, and not state police, determines when closed roads will reopen.

Shipley noted that Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and state police officials had warned people to stay off the roads before the worst of the storm hit Wednesday evening.

"We were doing everything possible," Shipley said. "They were telling people not to go out."

Shipley said troopers were at the traffic jams and, in some cases, went from vehicle to vehicle to make sure motorists were all right.

"This was being done throughout the state," he said.

Lora Rakowski, a spokeswoman for the SHA, said state officials couldn't tell motorists when the traffic would start moving again because state road crews were stuck like everybody else.

"We didn't want to create any unrealistic expectations," she said.

The SHA said in a news release issued Thursday morning that Braddock Mountain was one of the "most impacted" areas in Maryland. Dozens of tractor-trailers were stuck in the eastbound and westbound lanes of I-70, causing major backups.

The trucks had to be backed down the mountain one by one, the release said.  

"That's how the roadway was cleared," Rakowski said. "That happened over a number of hours."

The Maryland National Guard wasn't deployed during the storm because a state of emergency wasn't declared, said Shaun Adamec, spokesman for O'Malley.

"Those declarations are typically made when it is anticipated the National Guard possesses resources that could respond to incidents that the state cannot handle," Adamec wrote in an e-mail. "In this instance, even if the National Guard were deployed, unfortunately, those 40 (plus) jackknifed tractor-trailors statewide would not have been (moved) any more quickly.

"There are nonetheless important lessons to be learned, particularly with regard to communication before and during the weather event, that our road crews and emergency responders will take and adopt for future events," Adamec said in the e-mail.

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Video

To see video of the Bibbees' ordeal, go to http://www.youtube.com/user/ICheyrach

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