A stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Pittsburgh that was shut down by a snowstorm, stranding hundreds of motorists including university athletics teams, began to clear Saturday afternoon.
More than 500 cars, trucks and buses got stuck Friday night. Some buses were carrying the Duquesne University men’s basketball team and the Temple University gymnastics squad.
A turnpike official said no one was expected to spend a second night on the snow-choked highway. Spokeswoman Renee Colburn said front end loaders and members of the National Guard began to dig out cars and trucks Saturday afternoon.
Crews have were removing barriers between the eastbound and westbound lanes and allowing cars to fuel up at a turnpike maintenance shed before getting off the highway.
People still stuck there late Saturday afternoon said they received conflicting information about their plight. Temple gymnastics coach Umme Salim-Beasley said National Guard members who handed out military rations said her team will “most likely” spend another night on its bus.
“They are one by one trying to plow out vehicles and trying to get them moving,” she said.
Father Shaun Whittington, whose Indiana church group was stranded after a trip to Washington, D.C., said first responders don’t know when they’ll be able to leave.
“We see them working and ask them questions, and they say they don’t know,” he said. “Our kids have been great through this. They haven’t been complaining. But we’re getting close to running out of food.”
The group of 95 in a pair of buses was from St. Nicholas parish in Sunman, Indiana, and St. Anthony’s parish in Morris, Indiana, and was returning home after attending the March for Life in Washington.
The stranded passengers put on brave faces as their situation crossed over into a second 24-hour period.
“The bathroom is not that bad. It could be worse,” said Dave Saba, a spokesman for Duquesne’s men’s basketball team. “It’s not what you would expect from 31 men on a bus. We try to keep it clean.”
The team hadn’t moved an inch since becoming stranded Friday night on its way home from an 86-75 win over George Mason in Fairfax, Virginia.
The players mostly got by on leftover pizza and Gatorade and watched movies including “Invincible.” And it was difficult for some of the players, who were quite tall, to sleep on the bus.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s office said the problems in Somerset County began after westbound tractor-trailers were unable to climb a hill. As traffic backed up behind them, more trucks became unable to go up the hill, backing up all vehicles and preventing emergency crews from getting heavy-duty tow trucks to the scene and road crews from being able to clear the snow.
Wolf said each vehicle had been checked at least once and workers had been delivering food and as fuel to make sure engines keep running so the heat can stay on. He said the state was working to get shelters in place quickly so people can be moved to them in buses if necessary.