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Motorists marooned in deadly Midwest storm

LAPORTE, Ind. - Kate Ergang wasn't worried when two jackknifed semi-tractors trapped her and a friend on a highway in a blizzard. They had eaten dinner and had blankets and pillows in the car. They talked, listened to their iPods and dozed off.

But the May college graduate had a few minutes of panic yesterday morning when she woke to realize that, nearly 12 hours later, they were still in the same spot.

More than 100 vehicles were stuck yesterday on Indiana's highways. Blowing snow hampered snowplow drivers' efforts to free them, but by early afternoon most motorists had been rescued safely, said Beth West, the assistant director of LaPorte County 911.

The wind and heavy lake-effect snow were part of a storm that has been crawling across the Midwest since Friday night. At least 15 deaths have been attributed to the storm, which dumped nearly 2 feet of snow in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin before moving into Michigan and Indiana. It moved farther east Monday, into Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

Ergang and her friend, Allison Frank, were among an unknown number trapped on U.S. 30. They were driving home to Crown Point on Sunday after visiting friends in Central Indiana. All was fine until they reached Wanatah, about 35 miles southwest of South Bend.

"It was a whiteout. It was like a tornado of snow," Ergang said.

Frank nudged her 2000 Ford Focus forward, stopping periodically, before all traffic came to a standstill about 7 p.m., stopped by the jackknifed semi-tractors. She turned the car off, and the two made beds in their seats.

In the morning, they flagged down a police officer who told them a 7-mile stretch of the highway had been closed. About 6:30 a.m., the road to Wanatah opened, and they headed back there. They and dozens of other motorists spent the next three hours in a service station convenience store, where they could use the bathroom and buy food.

"It was definitely a relief to get out of the car and get in the warmth and talk with somebody else about what was going on," Ergang said later at home.

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