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Benton County digs out from storm

By JUDY SCHLESSELMAN

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A Belle Plaine man attempts to clear his driveway Dec. 9 during the height of last week’s blizzard. Benton County received a foot or more of snow in the storm that swept across the state late Tuesday through Wednesday.

A massive blizzard paralyzed southern Benton County and much of the Midwest last week, closing schools and businesses and grinding travel to a halt.

A foot or more of snow fell in many locations during the storm that roared through the area late Tuesday through Wednesday evening, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a blizzard warning for the entire state Tuesday night and Wednesday.

Benton County snow totals ranged from 12 to 15 inches, with 12.5 inches in Belle Plaine, according to the National Weather Service. KCRG-TV 9 reported 11.2 inches in Atkins and a foot in Vinton and Victor. Toledo received 15 inches.

The Iowa State Patrol advised motorists to stay off the roads beginning Tuesday evening.

As temperatures plummeted behind the storm, fierce northwest winds gusting up to 50 miles an hour Wednesday afternoon and evening created whiteout conditions and forced the closing of an 18-mile stretch of Interstate 80 in Jasper and Poweshiek counties. Portions of Interstate 35 north of Des Moines were also closed for a time.

Wind-chill readings of 20 to 30 below zero were common as the storm system pulled away from the state late Wednesday.

Most school districts across Iowa, including Benton Community and Belle Plaine, were closed Wednesday and Thursday.

Mail was suspended in most areas Wednesday, and many businesses were either closed or sent their employees home early.

By Thursday, main highways had improved. Ten plow trucks and 13 maintainers had opened all Benton County blacktops by mid-afternoon, according to Benton County Maintenance Superintendent Randy Sherwood. Drifts of four to six feet were common on most roads.

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Last week’s snows froze farming operations in this Benton County farm field.

“This storm went pretty good. Most people stayed home, which saved us a lot, and we didn’t have to work around many stuck cars. People heeded the warning and that was a good thing,” Sherwood commented.

Benton County Sheriff Randy Forsyth was at a conference in Des Moines during the blizzard, but he said with the exception of several minor accidents, few storm-related problems were reported.

“It was pretty quiet for us. Most people stayed home,” Forsyth said.

The Atkins Fire Department and First Responders were called to 33rd Avenue Wednesday at 8:09 p.m. for a snowmobile that had gone into a pond. The rider escaped and was not transported for medical care.

The sheriff’s office received two calls Thursday for vehicles stranded on gravel roads, Forsyth said.

Snow removal crews were out in Belle Plaine Tuesday working to keep ahead of the storm. Belle Plaine City Administrator Bill Daily said the crews hit the streets again at 3 a.m. Wednesday, worked all day and started again at 3 a.m. Thursday. Daily said he expected final clean-up efforts would extend into this week. He stated, “Everybody needs to be patient and understanding. It’s a matter of inconvenience.”

Compliance with Belle Plaine’s snow emergency ordinance has been excellent, Daily noted, with only five offenses reported during last week’s storm.

UPDATED December 16, 2009 11:20 AM

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