The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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February 20, 2014

(VIDEO) Storm closes highways, cuts off power

Stranded motorists make the most of their situation

When Jeff Oien and his friends were about to leave on their journey to the Black Hills, they knew there was a storm coming.

“It was going east, we were going west,” Oien said. “We thought we’d be OK.”

They thought wrong.

As their group of six from the Twin Cities drove down Highway 60 and the roads were getting worse and worse, it wasn’t a big surprise to find MnDOT workers putting up barricades, blocking any and all travel for the night. The storm that forecasters had been predicting for a week had delivered some of the snarliest conditions of the season. Powers outages, car crashes, school closings ... and now this.

At a roadside gas station, they found a police officer instructing motorists they could find shelter for the night at the fire hall or a local assisted-living facility. They chose the latter.

“We figured they’d have more puzzles,” Oien quipped.

The crew at the Crystal Seasons assisted-living facility said they been warned by police they may have unexpected visitors Thursday night, just as happened during the storm of a few weeks ago. So they’d set aside a few rooms just in case.

By 9 p.m. they’d welcomed 17 stranded motorists.

“We gave them snacks,” nurse Brittany Miller said. “Toast, cookies, coffee.”

It was a full day of weather-related inconvenience and irritation across the region.

Scores of schools let students go home early. Some didn’t have school at all. Minnesota State University, South Central College and Rasmussen College all canceled evening classes. Verizon Wireless’ call center sent workers home early. River Hills Mall closed as well.

Power outages worsened an already ugly evening.

About 600 customers lost power in Mankato, including a chunk downtown that affected several businesses.

In addition, there were roughly 700-900 Benco Electric customers without power.

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