WDAY: The News Leader

Published December 31, 2010, 09:22 AM

Last Stranded Motorists Describe I-94 Pile-up

Stranded motorists described the scary scene of a 100-vehicle accident on Interstate 94 after being rescued by an emergency operation of law enforcement Thursday night.

By: Forum Communications Report,

Stranded motorists described the scary scene of a 100-vehicle accident on Interstate 94 after being rescued by an emergency operation of law enforcement Thursday night.

“There was just no way to move at all,” said Razvan Stancia, who was rescued along with his dog, Misha, around 8:30 p.m.

Stancia, a truck driver, was planning on just making a stop in Fargo on his way to Chicago from Lewiston, Idaho. But once he came upon the accident, it was too slippery to drive and he was left stranded, waiting for rescuers.

Mike Nelson of Johnston, Iowa, had just unloaded his semi in Valley City and was heading to Fargo.

Nelson was ready to wait out the storm in his semi cab, but decided to get a ride from authorities, who didn’t plan to return to the scene until the weekend.

Jamestown College student Juan Hurtado said he didn’t leave his vehicle until the minute law enforcement came to his rescue. Hurtado had been waiting more than eight hours before rescue crews found him still in his friend’s car that had slid into the ditch when he tried to avoid the other crashes.

Hurtado, who is originally from Colombia, South America, and had just flown in from Orlando, Fla., said he didn’t realize how bad the storm was until he had to walk from his car to the rescue truck.

The accident, caused by high winds and snow resulting in zero-visibility conditions, was reported about noon Thursday 10 miles west of Fargo between Mapleton and Raymond.

The rescue operation, which got the last 10-12 people to safety after dark Thursday night, involved Cass County, the state Highway Patrol and the state Department of Transportation.

Capt. Eldon Meher, with the North Dakota Highway Patrol, said the accident was a domino effect, with at least 25 vehicles crashing into each other. Dozens of other vehicles were left stranded for hours between wrecks blocking the highway.

It reportedly began when a pickup ran into a jack-knifed semi and became stuck. A second semi then jack-knifed when it tried to avoid the first accident.

Meher said motorists could not see in front of them and continued to drive into other vehicles or into the ditch.

The accident scene was about a quarter-mile long, said state Highway Patrol Sgt. Dave Wolf.

Angie Kamin was on her way back home to Mapleton from Fargo when she heard news of the accident on the radio.

Although she and her husband weren’t driving more than 10 mph, she said they could barely see past the hood of their Jeep.

They slowed down, knowing they would come upon the scene. When they did, Kamin said she was horrified by the number of vehicles involved.

“It was horrible. I’m a North Dakota, Minnesota resident all my life – I’ve driven in everything – and I’ve never seen anything like that before,” she said.

A tactical operations center was set up at 2:30 p.m. at the Cass County Jail. A staging for snowmobile rescue operations was set up at the Cass County Highway Department building in West Fargo.

By 7 p.m., Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney’s office and the Highway Patrol were in full rescue mode.

“We’re just doing full- blown rescue out of the vehicles,” Laney said at the time. “Right now, we’re just trying to get people out.”

Essentia Hospital representatives in Fargo said two people were brought in by ambulance from the accident and one walk-in injury was reported. One person was treated from injuries at Sanford Medical Center.