Emergency response prepared; not needed

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Response prepared, not needed

McCOOK, Neb. — With 20 to 40 vehicles stranded along snow-packed and icy Highway 25 between Trenton and Atwood during the April 30 blizzard, McCook was the closest town that could have provided refuge for what might have been 160 or so people.

Red Willow County Sheriff and Emergency Manager Alan Kotschwar said Monday morning that despite having vehicles stranded in his own county’s ditches because of the storm, he and others sprung into action to also coordinate help for travelers stranded in Hitchcock and Rawlins counties. Kotschwar said that as bad as things were in Nebraska, he knew Kansas was getting hit with much more snow.

Although the choreographed rescue mission wasn’t necessary in the end, it was nice to know that Red Willow County and McCook could coordinate such services on very short notice, Sheriff Kotschwar said.

The effort started late Sunday evening with a call to Kotschwar from the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), whose officials asked if McCook would be able to provide shelter for travelers stranded in 20 to 40 cars between Trenton and Atwood. Kotschwar said the quick math meant anywhere from one person per vehicle — at the most 40 people, although that was unlikely — to possibly four per vehicle — 160 people, or possibly even more.

Kotschwar said tentative plans were to escort the stranded travelers in vehicles provided by the Kansas Highway Patrol and the Kansas National Guard driving between Kansas Department of Roads snow plows all the way to McCook.

Kotschwar said he first checked with motels for rooms available, and then also began to plan for shelters, with cots, blankets and food. He said that the Southwest Nebraska Public Health Department and the Salvation Army offered assistance.

After pulling together the emergency plans, NEMA officials called Kotschwar back and said the stranded travelers wouldn’t be coming to McCook after all. But the planning was a good exercise, Kotschwar said, and he knows who to call in another similar emergency.

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