Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 26, 2008

de la BASTIDE: Vivid memories from the blizzard

By KEN de la BASTIDE

Anyone who was alive in Indiana in 1978 has a story of coping with the blizzard that struck Jan. 25 and lasted three days.

Having grown up on Long Island, I remember cold temperatures and snow. But there was nothing like the storm that hit Indiana that day.

Below zero temperatures, gusting winds that dropped wind chill factors into the levels more associated with International Falls or the Arctic Circle, and snow ... lots of snow.

At the time, I worked for the Anderson Daily Bulletin and lived in Muncie near the Ball State University campus.

What I remember about the first day of the snow was the fact that there were not many people in the newsroom to publish the afternoon newspaper and even fewer who arrived to publish the morning Anderson Herald.

People were cleaning out the grocery stores of everything that was edible and preparing for the long haul. No one at the newspaper thought that far in advance.

Living in Muncie, I decided to find a place to hibernate in Anderson, but instead a small group of staffers for both newspapers remained at the offices then shared by the two newspapers.

That small group of staff worked on putting out the two newspapers. It was a team effort. We took turns sleeping on the couches in the women’s restrooms or on the floor. For food, there was a raid on the vending machines. A diet of candy bars and cheese crackers was all that was available. One good thing was there was plenty of coffee available. Eventually someone took pity on us and brought food to the newsroom.

Like in most Indiana communities, there was not an abundance of businesses opened and if they were, there was no way to get there. County and city officials naturally declared a state of emergency and closed the roads to everyone except emergency vehicles.

Roads were drifted shut and if you were able to get out of the parking lot, there was no guarantee that the journey would last long.

Jackson Street, one of the main downtown streets, had more snowmobile traffic than motor vehicles. Law enforcement agencies were pleading for people with four-wheel drive vehicles and snowmobiles to help get people to the hospitals and deliver medications where needed.

The two newspapers were printed every day of the blizzard. But because delivery was impossible, they sat on the loading dock. They were all delivered when the roads became passable.

It was an eerie feeling to walk onto a street that would normally be buzzing with weekday traffic and see no one. It reminded me of a picture of Edmund Hillary buffered against the snow and wind when he first scaled Mount Everest.

When the Anderson area began to return to some sense of normalcy, I decided to venture out to return to my home in Muncie.

I was in for a shock. A trip that should have taken about 30 minutes lasted almost two hours as I weaved my way around snowdrifts and abandoned cars along Ind. 32.

The real shock came when I got to Muncie. Because Indiana had experienced a run of mild winters in the years leading up to 1978, the mayor of Muncie in his infinite wisdom had sold off that city’s snowplows as a cost-saving venture.

That was a big mistake.

It was possible to leave Ind. 32 on the southside of Muncie and slowly make it to Ball State University, which was within a stone’s throw of where I resided.

The problem was that the side streets were closed. No plows to open a lane for traffic and cars in a hodge-podge, left by owners who gave up on digging them out.

The BSU parking lots had been plowed by the university maintenance staff. I parked in a lot and walked to the house I shared with two roommates.

The problem when I arrived was there was little in the way of food. We bundled up and walked the three blocks to the Village where there was a small convenience store.

The owner was selling each person one egg and two slices of bread because there had been no deliveries. He was attempting to make sure everyone at least had something to eat. The shelves were bare except for some cans of soup.

To our relief, and surprise, when we left the store we noticed a truck delivering beer to “The Chug,” a local watering hole. The bread and milk trucks couldn’t make deliveries, but the beer distributor could.

Entering “The Chug” you would never imagine that there was a natural disaster outside. Music was playing and dozens of people were huddled about, drinking their favorite beverage and eating cheeseburgers.

Eventually the Indiana National Guard and private contractors plowed the streets of Muncie. But for days and weeks afterward, people throughout central Indiana lived without electricity and in many cases heat.

Global warming, we needed some of that back in 1978.

Ken de la Bastide can be reached at (765) 454 -8580 or via e-mail at ken.delabastide@kokomotribune.com

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