BOWBELLS, N.D.-High wind and blowing snow on Tuesday turned a business trip into a frigid ordeal for a Montana man who said he was stuck on a far northwest North Dakota highway for more than 24 hours in what he called the "worst ground blizzard I've ever seen."
Dennis Berklund of Montana said he was headed for the courthouse in Bowbells in Burke County when blowing snow on U.S. Highway 52 caused his pickup truck to break down about 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday. He wasn't alone - police estimated that about 60 vehicles were stuck on the stretch of highway about two miles east of Bowbells from early Tuesday until mid-morning on Wednesday, when emergency workers were finally able to navigate snow-covered roads.
"There's a couple of big wrecks behind us," Berkland said when contacted by cell phone Wednesday morning. "Some are on the highway, some are in the ditch."
Traffic was finally moving on highways throughout the county by late Wednesday afternoon, Burke County Sheriff Jeremy Grohs said.
Calls from stranded motorists began coming in on Monday, as a blizzard swept through the northern portion of the state.
"At that point it wasn't really safe to send anybody out," Grohs said. "The big thing we had crucially emphasized was to shelter in place in their vehicles, or to go to a different vehicle if their engine had died or their own vehicle was too congested."
Grohs himself ventured out on Tuesday morning to try to rescue a man who'd called in asking for help, but ended up being stuck on Highway 52 for about 10 hours.
He used part of the time to walk for a distance of about a quarter of a mile to check on motorists and let them know they were in for a wait.
Berklund, 68, spent the night in a Montana-Dakota Utility truck whose driver let him in after seeing that the engine in Berklund's pickup wasn't working.
He saw no one out offering emergency supplies, although firefighters managed to make their way to the scene by Wednesday morning to offer diesel fuel to drivers who'd run out.
Berklund said he and his companion had water to drink, but no food. The truck idled through the night, keeping them warm, but by Wednesday morning, the fuel level was so low the truck's driver had to shut the engine off and walk up to where firefighters were stationed to ask for more diesel fuel.
According to Berklund, drifts as high as 15 feet were blocking the highway, and the cold and wind chill prevented anyone from trying to make the roughly two-mile walk to Bowbells.
"The other people want to get out of here and they're worried," he said. "This was the worst ground blizzard I've ever seen."