Chronology: "Valentine's Day Massacre" storm

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Tuesday, Feb. 13

Snow starts falling about mid-day in central and eastern Pennsylvania, continuing throughout the evening and into the early morning of Feb. 14.

Wednesday, Feb. 14

Snow turns to freezing rain and rain by mid-morning in most areas, lasting several hours; with frigid temperatures, the rain quickly turns to ice on I-78 between Harrisburg and Allentown, I-81 north of Harrisburg to Wilkes-Barre, and I-80, west of I-81.

10 a.m. An eastbound tractor-trailer going up an icy hill near the Shartlesville exit of I-78 in Berks County becomes stuck on the iced-over highway; a little bit later, a truck headed westbound in the same general area becomes stuck on the ice. Traffic begins backing in up both directions and prevents PennDOT plows from reaching stranded vehicles. Meanwhile, ice continues to build on road surfaces.

7:50 p.m. Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency finally activates its Emergency Operations Center, a central communications point linking PEMA, PennDOT, state police, National Guard and other state disaster agencies. PEMA Director James Joseph later admits he waited much too long to activate the center.

7:55 p.m. Gov. Ed Rendell is finally notified at his home in Philadelphia, when a state trooper phones him, that long lines of stranded motorists are stuck on the major interstates. Mr. Rendell calls Gen. Jessica Wright, commander of the Pa. National Guard, to send National Guard members to give blankets, military-style "meals ready to eat,'' and bottled water to stranded motorists. Mr. Rendell estimates that 100 troopers were on the scene along the highways in about an hour, and that over 500 guardsmen were responding within 24 hours.

Thursday, Feb. 15

Long lines of stranded motorists remain on the three interstates, making it difficult for PennDOT road crews to chip away at several inches of ice and snow covering the roads.

An angry Gov. Rendell calls a press conference in Philadelphia where he takes responsibility for the state's poor response to the storm, orders an investigation by two of his aides and former federal emergency management director James Lee Witt, and apologizes to all the stranded motorists.

All ramps leading onto the interstates are finally closed to incoming cars by mid-afternoon, more than 24 hours after ice began building up and motorists became stranded.

Friday, Feb. 16

Sometime during the morning, the last of the stranded cars and trucks are finally removed from the highways and PennDOT begins ice removal using chemicals and chipping equipment. But portions of all three interstates remain closed until Saturday afternoon.

Saturday, Feb. 17

4 p.m. The roads finally reopen to traffic, but officials urge motorists to drive at 45 mph because some ice still remained.

Back to main story: PennDOT chief takes blame for poor response to snowstorm that shut interstates


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