Weather Updates

Quinn tells state workers to stay home as blizzard buries Illinois

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SPRINGFIELD — Inundated in some locations by seven- and eight-foot snowdrifts, major portions of suburban expressways and downstate interstates remained impassable Wednesday as Gov. Quinn turned to the National Guard for more help in recovering from the statewide blizzard.

With abandoned cars clogging roads throughout the state, the governor also gave about 39,000 state workers in non-essential office jobs an unexpected day off, marking the first time since a 1978 snowstorm that much of the state workforce was told not to come to work.

That order applied to those not involved in storm-recovery efforts or in staffing veterans’ homes, prisons and Department of Human Services central health centers and centers for the developmentally disabled.

In the Chicago area, Route 53 from Interstate 90 to Lake-Cook Road remained closed because of as many as 40 abandoned vehicles on the 7 1/2-mile stretch, an Illinois State Police spokesman told the Chicago Sun-Times.

All other expressways were described in a State Police advisory Wednesday morning as “impassable” with three- and four-feet snowdrifts blocking numerous on- and off-ramps.

“The weather is starting to let up in many parts of state, which is good news. But the bad news is high winds, which means blowing and drifting snow. We have a lot of abandoned vehicles on the highways that is causing challenges for plow crews,” said Chris McLeod, a spokesman at the state’s emergency operations center in Springfield.

“We’ve heard that there are snowdrifts of six to eight feet in some places, maybe more,” he said.

McLeod said he was not aware of any fatalities or injuries, though he noted those typically would be handled by local law-enforcement agencies and not the state. The State Police spokesman reported 80 weather-related crashes in the Chicago area but no fatalities.

On Wednesday, Quinn mobilized additional resources from the Illinois National Guard to help in rescue and recovery efforts. Earlier, the governor activated 500 National Guard troops to assist in the storm response and to man interstate rest areas.

The re-deployment moved troops from rest areas to State Police district stations. Using Humvees and other all-terrain vehicles, they have been helping transport State Police to rescue stranded motorists in severely impacted northern portions of the state, according to a statement released from Quinn’s office.

Quinn spokeswoman Annie Thompson said “hundreds of people” had been rescued off of Interstates 290, 55, 57 and 80 overnight and that the “majority of people who were stranded on the roads have been rescued.”

She said the governor was monitoring and directing the state’s response to the blizzard.

“He’s been working on this round the clock to make sure everybody in Illinois is safe, and the state is doing everything we possibly can,” she said.

The unusual, day-long hiatus from work for state workers likely will end Thursday.

“I believe we will be operating normally tomorrow,” Thompson said Wednesday.

Contributing: Stephen Di Benedetto

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