Stuck in the Snow: March for Life 2016
March 1, 2016
Photo by Tom Hermanek
Timeline: Students Stranded in PA for 24 Hours
On Friday, January 22, 2016, over 60 Skutt Catholic students that were in Washington D.C. for the annual March for Life abruptly ended their protest and began the four block walk to Union Station, where they would load the buses and leave town in hopes of avoiding the impending snowmaggedon. The snow was accumulating quickly, and many feared that the buses wouldn’t make it all of the way home through the snow.
The buses made it 136 miles, not an inch more, before coming to standstill on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, where they were stranded for nearly 24 hours. Two students, Kayley Anderson, aboard the Love bus, and Tom Hermanek, a passenger on the Hope bus, recount their experiences, hour-by-hour:
Kaylee Anderson, Love Bus
Friday, 3 p.m.
We board the love Bus and depart for Omaha.
We stop for pizza somewhere in Pennsylvania and low key slide off the road a bit.
We stop on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for what we’re hoping is a brief traffic jam.
We go to sleep hoping & praying that we’ll move by the morning and be on time to Omaha.
Saturday, 8 a.m.
We woke up to find we had moved fifty feet and were probably not gonna move for a while.
This was the time that great news arrived, we had found a bathroom about half a mile away at a service station. So we threw on our hats and coats and trudged off the bus into the show which had been falling steadily since we had left D.C. I have never felt more alive than when I began trudging through the snow. I didn’t even feel cold. I only felt elated glee. Cars sped by a little shoulder road and we jumped into drifts to avoid them there by soaking ourselves. Finally when we arrived we found a one stall bathroom with a line longer than anything I had ever seen and a toilet hooked to a well that was getting close to clogged.
We each received one cold slice of pizza for lunch and we have little to no water remaining.
At this point we made the decision to head back to the bathroom before we ran out of daylight. The toilet on our bus was no longer safe to use because the smell it created could’ve easily knocked out a herd of goats. People had begun going to the bathroom behind a wall of snow on the side of the road that was close enough to our bus that you could see the tops of people’s heads. So to avoid possible embarrassment we trudged through the snow once again and found to our surprise a line leading out the door. When we finally reached the restroom the toilet had been clogged for several hours with people continuing to use it. I would be lying if I said I didn’t immediately make me want to throw up (I almost did), it was so horrible I don’t know if I have even words to describe it. All I can say is I literally started crying and the smell made me wish I was back on the bus. Everyone went to the bathroom outside from then on.
At this point fifteen extra people had joined our bus and no one was smelling very nice especially because the bathroom smell was still lingering. We had run out of water and our day old cold pizza, so we were a bit worried. Then some volunteer firefighters showed up with food and water, which was amazing of them truly. However we began to get a bit worried when we were each granted half a water bottle of water and a half of a hot dog bun with half a hamburger inside.
We begin moving. The cheering on the bus is loud enough to pop one’s eardrums.
Sunday, 12 a.m.
After a brief dinner at a gas station turned diner it’s finally time to go to sleep and I have never felt a more comfortable bed in my life. We did stick a chair under the door handle just to be safe.
Tom Hermanek, Hope Bus
Friday, 7:30 p.m.
My bus, hope, came to a standstill at mile 132.6 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We hoped, and expected, to be moving within the hour.
As we realize that we may be stuck for a while, we started watching “Jurassic World”.
As the ending credits of “Jurassic World” roll, we are told that we should be out in about 5-6 hours, and we all assume that when we wake up, we will be moving.
Saturday, 7 a.m.
When I woke up from a night of little sleep, I had a terrifying realization: we hadn’t moved an inch since the evening.
By 8, most students were awake, and looking for something to eat for breakfast. Thankfully, we had a plethora of leftover Pizza Hut pizzas from the night before, which had been kept cold in the cargo area of the bus overnight. At this point, no one knew when we would be moving again, and we laughed at the idea that we had the night before of being on our way home when we woke up.
As we grew restless in our seats, we began to leave the bus for some fresh air. We brushed our teeth, tossed a few snowballs, and freed cars which were stuck on the shoulder of the road.
The Pennsylvania National Guard arrived in military grade vehicles, and passed out food to some students and others stuck on the turnpike. Pizza Hut, as well as snacks from the cargo hold, are eaten for lunch.
Since a mass was in the itinerary for each day on the pilgrimage, the priests on the trip decided to hold a Mass on the side of the Turnpike, about 1/2 mile up the road. People from Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, and other states were at the mass. Attending mass on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, in a blizzard, was absolutely unreal.
As mass ends, someone yells, “Nebraska! We’re moving! Let’s Go!”, so we sprinted back to the buses, only to find out that as things started moving again, another accident halted traffic.
I heard rumors that there was a building with running water up the road, so I put on my boots and started walking with a few other Skutt Catholic students from my bus. It turned out that only about 1/4 mile from where I was stuck was a road maintenance facility with modern bathrooms and electricity.
I returned from the maintenance center and took my seat on the bus.
As we grew hungry again, we began to burn through the final rations from the cargo hold. Around the same time, I received an email blast from the Archdiocesan coordinator of the trip, Whitney Bradley, that said that arrangements had been made for hotel rooms for the evening in the nearby town of Bedford, PA. Although this was good to hear, we still feared that we would not be able to make it to the hotels.
At around 6, several people left the bus to dig it out of the snow, because traffic was beginning to move. Some used signs left over from the March for Life, others used Pizza Hut boxes. When we boarded the bus once again, we were told to go to our seats and be quiet so the driver could focus. The air was tense as we made our one attempt at preventing another night on the turnpike.
After nearly 24 hours, we finally made it out of the turnpike, and arrived at a Travelodge in Bedford, PA. We were able to crawl up to the maintenance station, turn around, into the opposite side of the road through a hole in the median which had been created by one of the various governmental agencies on the scene.
A few of my roommates had walked through the snow to a Denny’s, and I was grateful that they brought back dinner for myself and a few others. I’ve never had a tastier stack of pancakes.
Flightline TV Coverage
A Flightline TV production.
By Kirayle Jones and Abbey Lenz, with contributions by: Selena Thompson, Sydney Reeves, Ms. French, Mr. Lenz, Father Jeff, Father Capadono, Dee Botdorf, Tom Hermanek, Emma Panowicz, John Paul Rigatuso, and Kelli Zavadil. Also with photos by Maddie Jarosik.
Photo by Tom Hermanek
Trouble on the Turnpike
What went wrong on this year's March for Life
“Ugh, we’ve been stuck here for an hour,” students moaned on Friday evening.
“We should be moving when we wake up,” they said as it neared midnight.
“We’re going to be here a while,” students realized when morning came.
The recent snowstorm that slammed the East Coast stranded thousands of people across a 40 mile stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, including over 60 Skutt Catholic students who attended the annual March for Life in Washington D.C.
We at The Flightline feel that the steps taken in response to the snowstorm in Washington D.C. during the annual March for Life were not appropriate, and only put pilgrims on the trip in a hazardous situation.
On Thursday, the day before the storm was supposed to hit, the organizers of the trip sent out an email that students would be leaving on Friday afternoon–instead of Saturday as originally planned–to avoid the storm.
This decision was made in an effort to keep students from being stranded in D.C. during the storm, but many students and parents feared that leaving early wouldn’t allow the buses to beat the storm altogether; rather, ensure that the buses would be in the middle of a highway when the storm hit.
Unfortunately, that’s just what happened. Buses reached no further than mile 133 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike before coming to a complete halt. Buses stood in the same place for nearly 24 hours, becoming buried in a total of 30″ of snow.
This is exactly why we believe that leaving Washington D.C. Friday afternoon was the wrong call. Had the students stayed in Washington for an additional night or two, it is likely that they would have become stuck; however, students would have been stuck in a hotel with running water, food, bathrooms, and electricity, not to mention beds to sleep in.
Instead, students were stuck on the turnpike, where food was running low and water was limited to the bottles in the cargo hold of the bus.
Thankfully, buses were stranded no more than a half mile from a road maintenance center that had bathrooms which had been opened up to those who were stranded. However, the backup on the Pennsylvania Turnpike spanned 40 miles, making the chances of the buses being stranded within walking distance of bathrooms incredibly slim.
On top of this, communication between the trip organizers and pilgrims and their parents was poor. For example, many parents, including those of staff members of The Flightline who were on the trip, did not receive any email updates from trip organizers. The only way for these parents to be informed was to have other parents forward them the emails, or, having their child update them (assuming that their child had both cell reception and some power left in their battery).
Parents who were getting emails received information that, at times, was misleading. For example, an email sent to parents on Saturday night, as buses were finally leaving the turnpike, stated, “Arrangements have been made for hotel rooms in Bedford, Pa.” Although that was the case for all pilgrims from Skutt Catholic, students from Marian weren’t so lucky. They spent the night in a local Catholic school’s gym.
Due to several factors which were out of the organizers’ control, but still worked out in their favor, such as the fact that restrooms were just a short walk away from the buses or the fact that much more than enough pizza had been ordered the night before, everything turned out fairly well. However, had these factors not worked out so well, the situation could have been much worse.