I-65 reopens; ‘extreme caution’ urged
The Indiana Department of Transportation has reopened Interstate 65 between U.S. 30 in Merrillville and Lafayette, but is urging “extreme caution” when traveling on that road and others in northern Indiana.
“Hard-pack snow and ice should be expected on all Northwest Indiana roads, including I-65 and I-94, causing dangerously icy conditions,” INDOT said Tuesday morning. “Dangerously icy conditions will not likely improve across Northwest Indiana until temperatures rise tomorrow.”
Early Tuesday, INDOT said that “conditions remain extremely icy on passable roads, while others are becoming impassable from drifting snow, especially in the rural parts of Newton, Jasper, and southern Lake counties.”
The agency said the extreme cold is hindering its efforts to clear roads. In addition to road salt being ineffective in extreme cold, the temperatures “are also causing numerous mechanical failures for INDOT plows and heavy machinery,” the agency said.
INDOT urged residents to stay home if possible. The Indiana Department of Homeland Security has Lake and Porter counties under a travel watch, meaning only essential travel should be undertaken; LaPorte, Newton and Jasper remain under travel warnings, limiting travel to official emergencies.
The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District has reported weather-related delays on the South Shore Line. The day’s first train, 102, arrived at Millennium Station in Chicago 58 minutes late. Trains continue to be late due to speed restrictions and mechanical problems.
Meanwhile, while many hospitals and government offices that had closed Monday made plans to reopen Tuesday, schools across the region were announcing that they would remain closed for a second straight day.
In other parts of Indiana, the weather situation was similar. The frigid temperatures led the Indiana General Assembly to postpone the start of its 2014 session, which had been set for Monday.
Gov. Mike Pence signed an executive order on Monday declaring a state of emergency in 29 counties: Clinton, Delaware, Elkhart, Fulton, Grant, Howard, Jasper, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Lake, LaPorte, Madison, Marshall, Montgomery, Newton, Noble, Porter, Pulaski, Rush, St. Joseph, Starke, Steuben, Sullivan, Tipton, Vermillion, Vigo, Wabash, White and Whitley.
Lake County Commission President Michael Repay, D-Hammond, said a travel watch will remain in effect, meaning roadway conditions remain threatening.
All Lake County buildings will reopen for business Tuesday.
Porter County’s state of emergency expires at 6 a.m. Tuesday and government offices will reopen at 10 a.m., according to Porter County Sgt. Larry LaFlower.
“A majority of the community adhered to the ban, so it’s been a lot easier to get the roads cleared,” LaFlower said. “But there are several subdivisions that haven’t seen plows yet and there are a lot of cars that were abandoned in the road that we have to tow, so we have a long way to go.”
LaPorte County offices will be closed tomorrow for the weather.
I-94 and I-65 had been closed since an unrelenting snowstorm, fueled by high winds, moved into the region Sunday. By Monday morning, crews had piled snow on some ramps to make sure cars did not flout the warning.
It didn’t always work.
“Drivers have been caught going around barricades on closed interstates, like I-94 and I-65,” an INDOT press release noted. “This is extremely dangerous. They are endangering themselves and the emergency personnel tasked with rescuing these potentially stranded drivers. Dozens of people have already been rescued from impassable roadways during the past 24 hours.”
Commuters looking for another way to reach Chicago were out of luck, as the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District canceled all South Shore rail line service for Monday. It was set to resume Tuesday.
Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Deitchley said crews were working across the 13-county Northwest Indiana district to remove drifting and blowing snow, an effort now compounded by brittle, record-low temperatures hitting 15 degrees below zero.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service is warning of wind chills of 30 degrees below zero through midday Tuesday. The forecast windchills are the lowest in nearly 20 years, according to the service.
Complicating the struggle to stay warm for some people was a power outage in Merrillville. According to NIPSCO’s website, 37 homes in Merrillville were without power on Monday.
Indiana National Guard troops have been busy throughout the state, but highway assistance teams in Gary and Valparaiso are helping out however they can, according to spokesperson Lt. Col. Cathy Van Bree.
“They’re helping stranded motorists, getting people to warming shelters, and making medical center runs, such as getting people to and from dialysis treatments,” Van Bree said. “That’s the whole goal, prevent it from becoming an emergency situation.”
Meanwhile, schools across the region that were closed Monday announced they would remain closed Tuesday, including the Gary Community School Corp., Merrillville Community Schools, East Porter County School Corp., Valparaiso Community Schools, Porter County Career Center and Lake Central School Corp.
Gary Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said maintenance and custodial crews were checking schools and heating systems were working. She said staff administrators have been asked to monitor their schools. She added that she’s talked with an official from Illinois Central Bus Co. and buses will be ready when school reopens, but they expect to encounter some streets that haven’t been plowed. “Some things are out of our control,” said Pruitt.
Gary spokesperson Chelsea Whittington said the city had to respond to 10 people who were stranded. She said the effort to find shelter for homeless people is going well.
Even some of Northwest Indiana’s casinos gave way to the snow and cold. Horseshoe Casino in Hammond closed Monday.
Ameristar in East Chicago and Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City remained open as did one of Majestic Star’s two boats at Buffington Harbor in Gary.
Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, canceled a Tuesday morning forum planned for Calumet College of St. Joseph in Whiting.
Purdue University Calumet will remain closed on Tuesday, while Valparaiso University will resume operations at noon. Indiana University Northwest will resume normal operations.
Post-Tribune reporters Christin Nance Lazerus and Teresa Auch Schultz, as well as correspondents Carrie Napoleon and Michelle L. Quinn, contributed to this story.