Shelter from the storm
Kent Johnson didn’t expect to spend his Monday night at the Webster City Fire Station.
The Pocahontas farmer was headed back from dropping off his wife at the Des Moines airport Monday evening when, due to low visibility and icy road conditions on Highway 20, Johnson found himself in the ditch. Johnson was not injured and stated that his truck was in good shape. With a tow ban in place, Johnson was unable to get his vehicle out of the ditch.
“When we came down, we went down through Rockwell City on (Highway) 4 and then over on (Highway) 30 and it wasn’t too bad … some blowing snow, but I didn’t think the roads were bad,” said Johnson.
Because of worsening weather conditions, every hotel in the Webster City area was filled to capacity, so Johnson was taken by a sheriff’s deputy to the WCFD where a temporary shelter had been set up by Fire Chief John Conyn.
Johnson and six other men from Iowa and Minnesota spent Monday night at the fire station after accidents and zero visibility left them with nowhere else to go.
Blizzard conditions throughout Iowa yesterday left many travelers stranded on Interstate 35 and U.S. Highway 20 for extended periods of time. Local law enforcement worked throughout the day to render aid and bring people to warmth and safety.
Kiley Winterberg and Aaron Oldenburger were on their way to South Dakota to hunt coyotes and fox, however, their trip was unfortunately cut short.
Winterberg, a Butler County Deputy Sheriff from Allison, decided to take an alternate route after looking at the current weather reports.
“We actually checked the weather report and they said Highway 20 was better than Interstate 90 in Minnesota, so we came south to take 20 across,” said Winterberg, “We didn’t experience really bad until 5 miles before Interstate 35 and then it just went white.”
Oldenburger, a highway contractor from Clarksville, did not think the road conditions would be as extreme as they turned out to be.
“The closer we got to I-35, it deteriorated rapidly into basically whiteout. You couldn’t see anything,” said Oldenburger.
According to Oldenburger, the first accident occurred about a mile east of Interstate 35, as they were headed west Highway 20. Winterberg hit a semi truck from behind because he was unable to slow down in time. The accident occurred at approximately 8 a.m.
“I don’t know – a semi – we still haven’t figured out what he was doing,,” Oldenburger said. “There was a another trooper on the shoulder, and it looked like he was trying to go towards the shoulder or towards the trooper. He must have had the brakes on really hard and tried to slow down, but he couldn’t slow down fast enough,” said Oldenburger.
The impact of the collision left Winterberg’s truck stuck to the back of the semi.
“When the semi pulled forward, the truck was stuck on the back on the semi for a minute or thirty seconds til it broke loose. He was dragging us,” said Oldenburger.
After the shock of the impact passed, the two realized they could not start the truck and were stuck in the middle of the road, vulnerable to both the elements and oncoming traffic.
“And then we were sitting there and the truck was dead and still in the lane of traffic. We were both thinking, ‘We’re gonna get creamed.’ He finally cranked and cranked and finally, I don’t know why, it started,” Oldenburger said, “and he just cranked it over to the shoulder quick and got out of the way. There were a few tense moments there.”
Help arrived in under 30 minutes and the pair was taken a few miles away to the Boondocks. Miraculously, neither were injured. Because Winterberg’s truck was totaled in the accident, he called his father, Gaylen, to come get them. The Parkersburg resident drove in the bad weather to help his son and friend.
Oldenburger and Kiley Winterberg waited nearly four hours for their ride home. Gaylen Winterberg made it safely to the Boondocks and three returned to the wrecked truck to retrieve belongings.
“I think everyone was kind of happy that we were moving towards home again. And that lasted about two minutes, then the semi hit us,” Oldenburger stated.
Gaylen Winterberg had just gotten his truck back on the road when yet another traffic collision occurred.
“There were two semis hardly moving on the right side. I was behind them, I mean, I didn’t think they were even moving they was almost stopped. So I went to go around them. I got right beside the first semi and that’s the last I remember,” Gaylen Winterberg said.
“We were only probably going maybe 15 mile an hour and a semi just rear ended us . We ended up getting hauled to the hospital by Webster City Ambulance,” said Kiley Winterberg.
Gaylen Winterberg received a concussion as a result of the collision. Oldenburger was seated in the back of the truck and sustained a broken a rib.
The first thing Gaylen Winterberg remembered was seeing Oldenburger struggling to breath in the backseat.
Kiley Winterberg first realized his father was hurt when he kept asking what had happened and repeating the same question.
“He must have asked me what happened a dozen times while we were in there waiting for the ambulance,” said Kiley Winterberg. He asked the dispatcher to send an ambulance for his dad.
After a lengthy day of snow, injuries and delays the trio was arrived at the fire station around 7 p.m. Monday night.
The men were upset about their wrecked trucks but looked to the bright side of making it through the day with their lives as well as having a warm, safe shelter for the night.
“We went through the tornado in Parkersburg,” said Gaylen Winterberg, “and we’re alive so, you know, it’s just material things.”
Volunteer fire fighters brought food for all of the men that stayed at the fire station. Cots and blankets were also set up for the overnight guests.
“Everybody from the ambulance to the hospital staff to the deputies and here at the fire department, more than nice and accommodating and I can’t say enough about the way we’ve been treated so far. This is better than probably staying in one of the hotels in town,” said Kiley. Winterberg, “We’re fine, that’s the biggest thing.”.
Oldenburger echoed his friend’s thoughts.
“This place gave us food, gave us a bed. “The sheriff himself ran and got my prescription for me from Hy-Vee,” he said.