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A blast from winters' past: The blizzard of 1978

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a reproduction of articles from the first-ever combined edition of the Bellefontaine Examiner, published during the blizzard of 1978. The blizzard forced our staff at the time to combine Friday and Saturday, Jan. 27-28, into one edition. An undeliverable Thursday, Jan. 26, issue was inserted into the special combined edition with the aim of delivering the product by Saturday evening. Weather conditions were such, however, that none of the papers were able to be delivered until the following Monday.

This is especially for our readers who were too young to remember “The Blizzard” and for those who lived through it, a chance to reminisce. 

This item was orginally posted on Feb. 8, 2010.

 
Overview

The blizzard of 1978, widely considered the worst storm in Ohio history, struck before dawn on Thursday, Jan. 26, 1978. It continued for two days, during which time businesses, industry, schools and airports were closed. Daily life and activities did not return to a normal pace for five days.

Atmospheric pressure fell to 28.28 inches at Cleveland, the lowest ever recorded in the state, as the center of the blizzard crossed Ohio. This rapidly intensifying storm pulled bitterly cold air across Ohio on winds of 50 to 70 mph. The high winds coupled with heavy snows buried cars, houses, and railways, and blocked roadways.

More than 5,000 members of the Ohio National Guard were called to duty to perform a wide variety of emergency services and resuce operations. Forty-five National Guard helicopters flew 2,700 missions across Ohio rescuing thousands of stranded persons, many in dire medical emergencies.

Thousands of Ohioans used presonal snowmobiles and four-wheel drive vehicles to help with rescue efforts. Countless more volunteered at hospitals, shelters and storm command posts.

The death toll of 51 made this one of the deadliest storms in the state's history.

Local Weather Situation

Citizens Asked To Stay In During Clean-up Operation


Service Safety Director Lewis Ratleff Friday issued an urgent plea to the residents of Bellefontaine to “stay off the streets” for the next two to three days.

Even with an additional two inches accumulation of snow forecast for Friday, Ratleff said the winds are forecasted to subdue and plowing operations will be effective to some degree.

Following a Friday morning tour of the city’s main thoroughfares, Ratleff was to map the strategy for the street department operations.

blizzard78

Ghost Town — Except for four-wheel drive vehicles , snowmobiles and a few Army National Guard units that are able to make there way over the snow-clogged city streets, Bellefontaine, especially the downtown area, is virtually a ghost town today. Drifts of snow, particularly on the west side of the streets, nearly covers the first floors of some buildings. Here two grocery-bound residents make their way up Main street. Some pulled sleds, and six residents, incidentally, were seen dragging a canoe filled with staples from the market to their homes.
(Examiner File Photo/Byron Scott)

He said the main thoroughfares had first priority. He indicated the task would take several days and asked the citizens to be patient.

All non-essential departments of the city were closed again Friday as they were Thursday. He said police and fire departments were on duty 24 hours daily and were doing a “whale of a job.”

The city is using four-wheel drive vehicles on loan from the Ohio National Guard and from private citizens. Snowmobiles have also been pressed into action.

John Gordon in a snowmobile was dispatched Thursday to deliver Dr. Allen J. Stuckey from his rural home to Mary Rutan hospital where he was needed.

Nearly 25 persons were bedded down at the Armory on south Main street. They were persons of all ages, some without heat in the city, others travelers stranded here.

Firefighters

The city’s firefighters were called to the 1400 block of S. Detroit at 1:31 p.m. Thursday when a city-owned car was destroyed by fire. Apparently the vehicle’s dash wiring caught fire and the car was destroyed before the fireman could arrive to extinguish the blaze. The car was driven by city employee Herbert Brunke.

At 3:12 p.m. the fire trucks were called to 552 Eastern when wires in a meter box shorted out. No services were required by the men other than standing by until representatives from Dayton Power and Light Co. arrived.

The city’s rescue squad was called out at 2:46 p.m. to 404 E. Patterson when Emma Jean Phenix, 51, experienced shortness of breath. She was taken to Mary Rutan for medical attention.

At. 9:19 p.m., the squad was called to 817 Heritage Ct. when a woman experienced stomach pains. While attempting to reach her address for emergency response, the squad vehicle got stuck in a snowdrift. Snow plows and a backhoe were called in and also became stuck in the snow for a short time. By the time vehicles were freed, the woman declined any assistance.

Sheriff’s Dept.

All activity on the part of the Logan County Sheriff’s office Thursday was directed toward weather-related emergencies. They reported no accidents or criminal activity.

Sheriff’s deputies helped rescue people in emergency situations who needed medical care, food staples, or whose homes were without heat. The deputies assisted National Guard personnel from the armory in rescue efforts. They aided in the transportation of needed doctors and nurses to Mary Rutan.

“We kept our cruisers busy in emergency response until many of them either broke down or froze up,” said one deputy who has been on continuous duty since midnight Wednesday.

“The same officers have been on duty for several days now. We’re just doing our best, actually doing a hell of a job, with what we have to work with ... we’ll all just keep hanging in there.”

Police Department

City police have had eight persons working around the clock since 6 a.m. Thursday. The police personnel caught two-three hours sleep at a time in the city building and then returned to their emergency duties.

No activity has been reported to the police other than that related to the weather crisis. The dispatchers have handled at least 500 calls and complaints, and usually a response is coordinated with the National Guard to reach needy residents by snowmobile or four-wheel drive vehicle.

Police are working side-by-side with the sheriff's office to "relieve people's distress" in the words of Capt. John Anderson. "I see no relief in sight for our people on duty, but as long as we have food and supplies, we'll stay here and serve the people."

Food has been bought by the city and the local Red Cross and is being prepared by the fire department. The city administration has "seen to our needs," said Capt. Anderson, "and we are grateful for the tremendous spirit of cooperation which exists here."

A demonstration of that cooperation was the loaning of four-wheel drive vehicles and National Guard trucks to police because all of their cruisers are currently out of commission.

Hospital

The "crisis" situation at Mary Rutan hospital has stabilized, according to hospital officials, but the emergency nature of operations and medical response continues.

Due to volunteer assistance by many community residents, all key positions at the hospital are staffed. Patients are "well-fed and cared for," said one official, and families are urged not to telephone or visit.

Only emergency patients were being treated at the hospital Friday and the parking area was cleared only enough to permit access by emergency vehicles.

Six physicians were on hand Friday, and they and the nurses had reached the hospital largely through efforts of VANGUARD, the police department and sheriff's deputies.

Most available hospital personnel had been there since Wednesday night or Thursday morning, and they intended to stay as long as necessary.

The community volunteers, whose efforts were applauded by hospital personnel, were helping with bedpan emptying, feeding and bathing patients, general companionship and assistance.

"Everybody is pulling together here to provide vital emergency services and to keep patients as well-cared for as possible. With all our outside help from area agencies and volunteers, we will be able to keep the hospital running smoothly with a minimum of trouble."

Highway Patrol

Across Ohio, the paralyzing blizzard which left thousands of motorists stranded along highways has created innumerable problems for the state Highway Patrol.

Patrol officials reported they already rescued 5,700 stranded motorists and estimate that perhaps 2,100 more motorists are waiting rescue.

The Bellefontaine patrol post became almost an “island” headquarters as treacherous drifting snows kept patrolmen from venturing out. All Logan county roads were, and still are, officially closed and no accidents were reported by the snowbound post.

The patrol post’s chief function until the winds die down is to monitor emergency telephone calls and coordinate transportation responses for the area.

The post has received varied reports on the severity of road conditions, which include trucks jack-knifed on U.S. Route 33 and a buried state highway truck out near Valley-Hi.

The highway department’s snow removal crews have been virtually helpless to maneuver or produce any results while the high winds buffer the roadways.

It was reported that five state patrol personnel were able to reach the post, and they and all highway workers stayed through the night at the Highway Garage, hoping to get onto the roads by Friday afternoon.

Farm Situation

Many farmers are running out of feed and others are looking for alternate power sources, according to Joe Brooks of the Farm Bureau.

One farm (Wish) was without power and had 150 cows to milk. He was just one of many affected by the power outage.

Many were also without water because of no electricity.

Railroads

Railroads were having their problems, too. The rail snow plow of the D.T.&I Railroad was stalled Friday near St. Paris and was awaiting additional locomotive power.

Conrail’s plow Friday was inching its way to Bellefontaine and was at Ansonia at noon. The plan was to return to Indianapolis once it reached this city.

Utilities

Except for “scattered outages,” Dayton Power and Light Co. feels it is finally “getting a handle on the area’s electric situations,” according to Harold Oda of DP&L.

He reported that the eastern half of West Liberty was without power early this morning, but because U.S. Route 68 has been cleared, service was restored to that village.

Crews will head today to West Mansfield to repair scattered outages. Another crew will begin work in the Huntsville- New Richland-Belle Center area -- “We set for those areas last night but were forced to turn back.” Crews were also headed for the Russells Point-Lakeview-New Hampshire section of the county to work today.

Mr. Oda also noted that DP&L hoped to secure services of a helicopter today to survey the county this afternoon for possible outages. He said crews have been working “every possible hour, catching bits of sleep and then starting out again,” and said he hoped service could be restored in full before Monday.

Post Office

The Bellefontaine Post Office has received no mail from the Columbus distribution point for the past three days. It was further reported the Columbus office was not working Friday night, meaning none would reach here before the weekend at the earliest.

Rescue Operations Continue At Lake

After two nights of battling high winds and drifting snow rescue operations continue despite the breakdown of several snowmobiles and four-wheel drive vehicles.

With some now drifts averaging 14 feet, according to one lake resident, “12 snowmobiles were torn up when they hit deep snow and were buried,” according to Dave Leiter of Long Island, at Indian Lake, who was in charge of one command post set up by REACT.

“The actual rescue operation is being done by the Indian Lake Snowmobile Association and private individuals with snowmobiles ,” he said. “REACT is manning the C.B. radios, taking calls, dispatching snowmobiles and some are driving there own snowmobiles. We have two organizations helping each other.”

The medical squad is also standing by to be taken to emergency situations by snowmobile, he added.

“We have two of our vehicles buried in a lane out by Cherokee Landing, which leaves about eight in working condition, Leiter said. “By noon we’ll probably have 15 or 20 running.”

Leiter noted that repairs on snowmobiles and four-wheel drive vehicles are averaging $150 to $200, and private owners are having to pay for the repair work.

“Right now we’re working on three families in the Lewistown area who are without electricity,” he said, and seven families in a similar situation were rescued Thursday night from the area between the lake and Santa Fe.

“We had one baby with pneumonia we’re trying to get to an emergency vehicle in Roundhead, but I haven’t heard anything from the rescuers yet,” Leiter said. “And Thursday night at about 11 p.m. we had a fire out towards Santa Fe, but the fire trucks couldn’t get to it, so our snowmobiles picked up the victims.”

Rescuers have also been aiding stroke victims and delivering groceries, but “more and more people are getting into trouble as they run out of food and fuel oil, Leiter said.

The Indian Lake Kiwanis have donated $200 to the snowmobile group.

According to Lee Van Horn of the Indian Lake area, snowmobiles are the only reliable form of transportation at this time.

“Several homes west of Lakeview are without power,” he said, but in some cases Van Horn believes elderly people may be better off remaining in their homes rather than fighting the cold winds on a snowmobile, he said.

Conditions are so severe that “following two deaths in the Indian Lake area, the remains has to be removed to the funeral home by snowmobile,” he said.

In one instance, a rescuer, Harry Moore, was stricken while on a snowmobile. He had bronchitis to begin with, and when his bronchial tubes narrowed, he required medical assistance,” Van Horn said. “They brought Dr. Paul Bonetsky across the ice to treat the patient, who is all right now.”

Snowmobilers also transported Bob Beck to his grocery so he could supply more formula for a baby in the area.

Visibility was so bad Thursday night that “we could not see the headlights of snowmobiles 10 feet behind us. It was frightening,” Van Horn said. “Unless you were in the thick of it, there is no way you can imagine the way it was. It was like being blindfolded and then told to walk a straight line.”

“We used telephone poles to gauge where the road was,” he said. “But at one point, the road turned and we went straight out into a field.”

Some rescuers worked 10 hours straight Thursday, checking abandoned cars and homes, he added.

According to Mrs. Richard Pebley of the lake area, three command posts were set up Thursday at the Russells Point city building, Blackhawk and Long Island.

From the Thursday, Jan. 26, Bellefontaine Examiner:

Lake Contractor Saved Today By Snowmobilers

An Indian Lake contractor possibly escaped death from exposure this morning after he became stranded in his truck on State Route 366, near the Ark restaurant.

Jack E. Brown, Lakeridge, reportedly left his home about 5 a.m. in an attempt to reach some of his snow-removal equipment at his Russells Point office.

His truck became stuck, however, near the junction of State Route 366 and 368. For three hours, the contractor tried futilely to reach someone on his CB radio.

It wasn’t until about 8 a.m. that his wife, who was monitoring Brown’s CB channel on a base station, heard his call for help.

Responding to the distress call were three Indian Lake snowmobilers, Wayne Kimmel, Jon Gillespie and Brown’s son, Eric.

By the time the trio of rescuers reached the stranded truck, Brown was nearly “rigid” from the cold.

According to accounts, wind-shipped snow was blowing directly into the cab of Brown’s truck during his ordeal.

The nearly frozen contractor was transported to the Lakeridge home of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Taylor, where he was given hot liquids and eventually recovered significantly to be taken to his nearby home.

Weather Notes

Mrs. Betty Boyd has been providing food for the Russells Point Emergency Center, located at the Fire Dept.-Police station on Route 708. Mrs. Boyd has made soups, pies, etc. for the crews such as valiant snowmobilers, and drivers of four-wheelers as well as “homeless” guests.

Many heroes will be born out of the latest blizzard. Several persons in the West Mansfield area are being hailed for their efforts to rescue persons from their cold homes on Township Road 132.

Dwight Watkins on a snowmobile was able to reach the Mike Comstock family whose house temperature had dropped into the 20s. Aid was administered for frostbite and later Larry Cronkleton in a four-wheel drive vehicle was able to reach them and several others on the same road and take them to safety.

Assisting in the organization of the rescue effort was Ronnie Carpenter. He did “a fantastic job,” one person said.

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West Liberty residents are urged to use no more water, they are at the “bottom of the barrel.”

The West Liberty telephone exchange is on battery and Commercial Manger Bill Waldron said calls there should be restricted to emergencies only.

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The driving ban in the Lake area has been continued. Emergency vehicles only are allowed on the roadways.

Most churches have canceled services because of the ban.

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One of the first items to disappear from the Bellefontaine grocery shelves was bread after residents began digging themselves out and finding a variety of means of reaching the groceries.

With deliveries of any kind at a standstill, the prospects of finding bread in the city were fairly bleak. But putting in extra hours were Mr. and Mrs. Phil Randall, owners of Randall’s Bakery, 116 N. Main, who arrived home about 9:30 a.m. today after baking 600 loaves of bread since early Friday morning.

Mrs. Randall this morning that she and her husband “are about done in and out of flour,” All but 78 loaves were distributed to Great Scot, Super Valu, Krogers and A&P, she explained. The remainder was taken to Mary Rutan Hospital, where the bread stocks had dwindled to a mere two loaves.

Aiding the Randalls with distribution of the bread were Larry Moon and Lloyd Bontjes, who delivered the bread with four-wheel drive vehicle. Moon and Bontjes also used the vehicle to delivery groceries to stricken families.

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Another heroic feat occurred Thursday when four Bellefontaine men rescued a mother and her four-year-old son on County Road 157, near the Union County line. Doug Lamb and Bo Gillespie blazed the trail with their snowmobiles while Greg Kerns drove his four-wheel Blazer vehicle, accompanied by Edward Gillespie.

The mother and young son, Chad, were stranded in a trailer home and the rescuers brought them to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Cummins, 312 S. Park.

The young mother, Mrs. Martha Stidham, Middleburg area, is a friend of Mrs. Cummins and is employed by a law firm in Bellefontaine. The heating unit in her home had broken down.

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The sheriff’s office reported today that Mrs. Donald Carter (experiencing labor pains) and her husband were airlifted from their Quincy home at approximately 9:30 p.m. Friday and transported to Wilson Memorial Hospital in Sidney.

The efforts were coordinated through the Logan and Shelby county sheriff’s offices, and the helicopter was provided by a National Guard unit.

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