Bracing for a knockout blow

Bracing for a knockout blow

First half of nature's 1-2 punch puts area on ropes with 6 to 10 inches of snow before bitter cold swoops in

CHAMPAIGN — There may have been more than half a foot of snow on the ground in East Central Illinois on Sunday afternoon, but that didn't stop Christina Harden of Urbana from heading to the Savoy 16 to see the film "American Hustle."

"I really wanted to see this movie, and there was nothing else to do," Harden said. "This was a good thing as long as I don't die on the way home."

Savoy 16 Assistant Manger Benjamin Layman said the theater rarely closes during storms.

But, "We have decided to close the late shows, so something that starts after 7:40 p.m. (Sunday) won't be showing," he said.

Layman said attendance was lower than normal because of the snowstorm, but dozens of people still made their way to Savoy to catch a film.

Sunday's snowfall made many streets and highways impassable and led churches, shops and schools to close throughout the area. State police called travel conditions Sunday night "life threatening."

Preliminary estimates Sunday evening from the National Weather Service showed between 6 and 10 inches of snow fell across the area.

Champaign's Tracy Dowden and Erica Rodgers were among a handful of shoppers at Market Place Mall on Sunday afternoon.

"I had cabin fever," Dowden said. "My mom said I was stupid to go out, but I had to do something."

The anchor stores at Market Place remained open despite the conditions and less-than-brisk business.

State police from District 10 in Pesotum announced early Sunday evening that interstates 57, 72 and 74 were all impassable because of whiteout conditions and drifting snow.

State police officially closed the eastbound lanes of I-74 near the University Avenue exit in Urbana late Sunday afternoon because of multiple vehicle accidents, including jackknifed semis.

Traffic was being re-routed onto U.S. 150, but that highway was soon closed between St. Joseph and Urbana because of a crash.

The Illinois Department of Transportation reported that Illinois 47 was closed south of U.S. 136 southwest of Fisher, and Illinois 10 was closed west of Illinois 47 near Seymour.

State police also responded to an accident involving two jackknifed semitrailer trucks at milepost 192 on I-57 north of Mattoon that was blocking both northbound lanes. Traffic was stopped northbound until the semis were removed.

"Roads are currently snow packed and hazardous, and blowing snow is causing extremely poor visibility," said Trooper Tracy Lillard. "State police are advising all motorists to not travel at this time. Emergency travel only."

Police were asking motorists whose vehicles went into a ditch to remain inside their vehicles.

"If motorists have vehicle problems, a disabled vehicle or a crash, assistance may not arrive before they succumb to extreme cold," Lillard said. "Stay home and out of danger."

With travel on interstates difficult or impossible late Sunday, the Red Cross announced that shelters for stranded motorists have been opened at Eagle Mountain Church, 401 E. Sale St., Tuscola, and First Presbyterian Church, 10 Charleston Ave., Mattoon.

Meanwhile, Champaign County officials halted snow-plowing operations on county highways and township roads at sunset Sunday.

The county highway department planned to resume plowing as conditions permit this morning.

John Collins, operations manager for Urbana public works, said the heavy snowfall forced his crew to concentrate on primary routes Sunday afternoon and evening.

"We are doing our best to maintain our primary routes for emergency vehicles," Collins said. "The snowfall has been rather heavy at times."

He said 13 trucks were plowing streets throughout the day and night, and a second crew of 13 drivers would be taking over duties at midnight.

"We have had a combination of a large amount of snow accumulations, high winds, cold temperatures and low visibility," Collins said. "That's not a very good combination."

If the plows are successful in clearing the primary routes, Collins said the drivers will then turn their attention to other streets.

"We'll continue working until we get this cleaned up," he said.

Kris Koester, public information officer for Champaign public works, said Sunday marked the fifth consecutive day of concentrated work by city crews to keep streets clear.

"We've been out there around the clock since Wednesday, first with the New Year's Day snowfall and then preparing for Sunday," Koester said.

Koester said Champaign plow drivers have focused on the primary routes to keep them clear for emergency needs.

"We have seen some blowing snow and some severe weather conditions, especially on the east-west routes," Koester said.

He said drivers of 19 trucks and tractors were operating all day Sunday, and they were scheduled to be relived by 18 more drivers beginning at 11:30 p.m. that night.

Altogether, 27 people (including supervisors and dispatchers) were involved in the snowstorm response in Champaign.

"In addition, we got some contractual help assistance on Windsor Road, Curtis Road, Staley Road and the Boulder Ridge and Sawgrass areas," Koester said. "Those people worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday and will work the same hours on Monday."

Rantoul Public Works Director Greg Hazel said five large trucks were plowing the streets all day and night Sunday.

"It's a battle," Hazel said. "I can't tell any more if it is snowing or blowing. The wind is blowing so hard.

"We've been working all day. We spent time Friday and Saturday knocking down drifts in some areas. We'll be working through the evening and start again on Monday."

Sunday's snowstorm also affected passenger trains traveling through Champaign. Amtrak canceled Saluki trains 391 and 392 for today because of the weather.

Willard Airport in Savoy also closed until further notice.

The storm also affected operations at the University of Illinois.

UI Chancellor Phyllis Wise sent an email to employees saying, "Unless your function is critical, you should not report to work this (Sunday) afternoon, tonight or tomorrow (Monday). Employees who do not work must use personal time (vacation, floating holiday, accrued comp time) or take an excused, unpaid absence.

"If you are not certain whether you perform a critical function, you should contact your supervisor for clarification. In situations such as these, critical functions include, but are not limited to, tasks such as snow removal and animal care."

Today's Illinois-Northwestern women's basketball game at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston was postponed because of inclement weather throughout the state. A makeup date had yet to be determined Sunday evening.

Even the Champaign County Jail was affected by the storm. All jail programs and visitation were suspended for Monday and Tuesday. Visiting hours and programs will resume Wednesday.

Family and friends of detainees can call 384-1243 with questions concerning the posting of bond and to make arrangements to pick up detainees discharged during the adverse weather.

Detainees who are homeless or do not have transportation will be allowed to stay in the jail lobby until the weather improves or they get a ride or transportation can be arranged.

Meanwhile, Ameren Illinois activated its Emergency Operations Center and placed its employees on alert. Customers who experience an outage should call 800-755-5000 or visit amerenillinois.com to report it. Customers are also reminded to stay away from downed power lines and report a downed line to Ameren Illinois as quickly as possible.

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