Shelters opened for stranded travelers

by Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

Families returning from holiday vacations and snowbirds making their way south were caught without shelter on Friday night because of the snow storm and the closure of I-40.

And there was more than a full house in Tucumcari Friday night as the city and some residents opened shelters and their homes to the travelers.

With motels occupied, the city opened the Tucumcari Recreational Center at about 2 p.m. Friday to about 200 stranded travelers, with the overflow going to the Field House at Tucumcari High School, said Mike Cherry, emergency manager and fire chief. “We can accommodate about 200 at the field house and that’s what we’re setting for now.”

License plates on the cars outside the center – Pennsylvania, Iowa, Kansas, Arizona, California, Illinois – told where many were traveling from or to.
Merle and Shirley Matzke of Gold Canyon, Ariz., who were returning from their Christmas holiday in Minnesota, were making the most of it as they chatted with another couple while sitting on the bleachers at the rec center.

“We couldn’t go any farther on the highway. We tried to find a motel, but they were full, so they told this was open,” said Shirley Matske, who continued her knitting to make the time pass.

Ron and Nancy Allmandinger of Wilton, Iowa, who are on their way to their winter home in Mesa, Ariz., were visiting with the Matzkes.

“We tried to follow the weather on the radio, but they didn’t say what was happening in this part of the country,” said Ron Allmandinger.

“We’re used to all this snow,” said Ron Allmandinger.
“The town should be proud that they have this,” said Nancy Allmandinger. “We’ve met some nice people.”

Another couple, Simon and Magalit Liera were traveling from Dallas to Los Angeles. “We’re on vacation. We didn’t think it would end up like this,” said Simon Liera, who was holding his young son, Eric.

Perhaps the envy of many of the stranded at the center, Sandy and Bryon Wickman of Webster, Wisc., went out and purchased an air mattress for $60.

“We figure that we’d have paid that much for a hotel room, so we might as well be comfortable,” she said.

The American Red Cross provided sleeping bags, and several stores and restaurants have brought in coffee and food, said Mary Ann Garrett, who serves in the outreach ministries with the Southern Baptist Convention in the Quay county and surronding areas.

“Some people have come by and taken people into their homes,” she said.

“/I’m surprised at how many elderly we have,” she said, expressing concern for some of their welfare because it appeared that it would be difficult for them to sleep on the gym’s hard wooden floor.

Many residents also brought blankets and food for the stranded travelers.

The rec center, however, with its pool tables and other facilities seemed to be keeping the younger set occupied.
The weather also caused basketball games in Logan and Tucumcari to be canceled.

The Logan Longhorns match up against the Floyd Broncos and the Tucumcari Rattlers against the Raton Tigers were canceled Friday morning.

Meanwhile, at about 6 p.m., police officials said all the roads out of Tucumcari and eastbound I-40 were closed to travel because of “white out” conditions.

Logan police officer Pablo Benavidez advises against travelers trying to by-pass I-40 while it is closed.

“Usually people are trying to get around the storm and think that if they travel on a different road that is not closed that they will automatically get where they are going,” said
Benavidez.

“Sometimes they end up taking a route that is longer and secluded and the storm becomes worse and they might end up stranded with no immediate help available. I feel it is safer for them to wait out the storm before traveling.”

QCS Staff Writer Thomas Garcia contributed to this report.