Updated 02/25/16 – 11:44 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Tens of thousands of people in northwest Indiana lost power Wednesday, when a blizzard dumped more than a foot of snow in some areas, and winds of up to 50 mph took out power lines. Scores of motorists also ended up stranded overnight when their cars got stuck in the heavy show.

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As of 10 a.m. Thursday, approximately 9,400 customers were without power in northwest Indiana, according to the Northern Indiana Public Service Co., mostly in Lowell and Wheeler.

At the height of the storm, nearly 30,000 NIPSCO customers without power. The storm also caused as many as 13,600 power outages for ComEd customers in Illinois, although that number was down to less than 650 by 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

Kevin Santelik’s family home has been without power since the height of the storm. To make matters worse, his wife is 37 weeks pregnant.

“I’ve been trying to clean up my driveway. It looks like we got about 3 feet of snow drifted over on the road, and it’s just a mess out here. All the east-west roads are just horrible,” he said.

One person in Lowell called 911, but ambulance crews couldn’t reach them, so first responders waited for a snowmobile team to go in and make an evacuation.

“We’re completely snowed in. No power. We haven’t had power for about 12 hours. I got the generator going, so I was just trying to get my driveway clear, so that way if I need to go get some gasoline for the generator, I can do that,” Santelik said.

It also was a very long night for Indiana State Police, who responded to more than 200 instances of vehicles sliding off the roads Wednesday night, after a winter storm dumped nearly a foot of snow in some parts of northwest Indiana.

Troopers responded to more than 220 property damage accidents, resulting in more than 60 injuries, and answered 176 calls for help from drivers throughout the state.

In Crown Point, parts of U.S. Route 231 became a parking lot after a semi-tractor trailer jackknifed and took out a power line. That caused a major backup, and forced emergency crews to rescue stranded motorists from their vehicles.

“We found about 30 cars stuck in the snow, with people still in them,” Crown Point assistant fire chief Gerard Abraham said.

Indiana Route 2 in Lowell also was shut down just west of U.S. Route 41, heading towards Grant Park, Illinois.

“It’s treacherous. There’s probably 50 cars, trucks, semis, tow trucks, plow trucks just buried. There’s no passing getting through there,” said Bob Taylor, who rescued his wife after she got stuck on Route 2 for about nine hours on Wednesday. “My wife was stranded there from 2:30 yesterday. They kept saying the plow was coming, and at 11:30 I went and picked her up on a snowmobile and brought her home. She was like 4 miles down the road from our house.”

The only way to quickly navigate the normally busy east-west route Thursday morning was on snowmobile, so CBS 2 photojournalist Dino Pillizzi hitched a ride on one, and saw firsthand how the storm even halted snowplows in their tracks.

(Credit: CBS)

This snow plow was among dozens of vehicles that got stuck in heavy drifting snow on Indiana Route 2 in Lowell during a blizzard on Feb. 24, 2016. (Credit: CBS)

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Dozens of other vehicles got stuck in the snow on Illinois Route 17 in Grant Park. The Grant Park Fire Department said about 60 vehicles got stuck, and firefighters took about 20 people to warming shelters. Others chose to spend the night in their vehicles while Illinois Department of Transportation crews worked to clear the road.

For many, the ordeal started Wednesday afternoon, and didn’t end until Thursday morning.

“The only thing I’m thankful for is I had a full tank of gas, and a good working car,” Meredith Dorge said after sitting in her car on Route 2 for about 11 hours before she was rescued by state police. “In front of me there were several cars that were stuck, and crossing the road so that nobody could get through. I’m just ready to be home, and I know my family is worried.”

Even after she was rescued, she had to wait a while longer in the police post parking lot to get a ride home, so she took a nap in a trooper’s car.

Joe Rodenbucher made it all the way from St. Louis to Lowell, after making a pit stop in Kankakee, but got stuck on Route 2 around 3 p.m. Wednesday. He said two plows also got stuck on the road, and ended up blocking traffic in both directions.

Around 3 a.m., crews started getting cars turned around, and he was able to start driving home again at 8 a.m.

Luckily, he was prepared to wait out the storm with plenty of granola bars and water, even paying it forward by giving out granola bars to other stranded drivers.

“They appreciated it. They didn’t have anything,” he said.

He had another hurdle to clear when he got home, though. He still had to shovel his driveway.

The blowing snow caused visibility to drop to near zero at times, making driving all but impossible.


According to the National Weather Service, as of late Wednesday night, the storm dumped 15 inches in Cedar Lake, Indiana, 14.5 inches in Crown Point, 14 inches in St. John, 12 inches in Valparaiso, 11.5 inches in Hobart, 11.2 inches in Schererville, 11 inches in Griffith, 9.8 inches in Dyer, 9.5 inches in Portage, 8.7 inches in Munster, 7.0 inches in Chesterton,

Totals were significantly lower in Illinois, with 7.8 inches in Crete, 7 inches in Lansing, 7 inches in Park Forest, 6.2 inches in Peotone, 4.5 inches in Homewood, 4 inches in Normal, 1.9 inches at Midway International Airport, and 1.7 inches at O’Hare International Airport.

Crown Point police said they were still in emergency mode Thursday morning, and drivers should stay off the roads.

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State Road 2 between Lowell and I-65 was impassable early Thursday. The U.S. Route 20 ramps onto I-94 also were closed.