Mayor raises travel emergency level in Indy to ‘red’

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The mayor of Indianapolis has upgraded the city's travel emergency level to "red," making it illegal for anyone other than emergency personnel to drive except for emergency purposes or if they are seeking shelter.

The move by Mayor Greg Ballard on Sunday is the first time Indianapolis has issued such a travel warning since the 1978 blizzard.

Ballard said in a news release that he plans to re-evaluate the situation at noon Monday.

At a news conference earlier Sunday, Ballard urged businesses to remain closed Monday, or at least wait until noon to open. The Indianapolis area received 8 inches to 13 inches of snow Sunday.

"This combination of snow and cold is unlike anything we've seen in a long time," he said.

Numerous school districts, colleges, cities and counties in Indiana announced they would be closed Monday as the National Weather Service warned of deadly wind chills as low as 45 below zero possible through Tuesday.

County officials throughout Indiana urged people to stay off the roads Sunday as plow drivers tried to clear snow before the arrival of arctic air. The deep chill in the forecast had Gov. Mike Pence so concerned he put Indiana National Guard members on standby to help out in case of emergencies.

Numerous school districts, colleges, cities and counties announced they would be closed Monday as the National Weather Service warned of deadly wind chills as low as 45 below zero possible through Tuesday.

The General Assembly also postponed the opening day of its 2014 session Monday, and the state appellate courts, including the Indiana Supreme Court, said they would be closed. Pence also announced that all state government offices would be closed, but told essential personnel to report to work to ensure public safety and critical services are available.

Pence says he issued the order because he wants to help keep people off the roads and out of the extreme cold. Pence's announcement early Sunday evening followed earlier announcements that the General Assembly postponed the opening its 2014 session Monday and that state appellate courts, including the Indiana Supreme Court, will be closed.

Areas throughout central and northern Indiana reported receiving 8 inches of snow by late Sunday afternoon. Merrillville, Crown Point and LaPorte in northwest Indiana reported 12 inches, Lebanon 11.5 inches, Michigantown — 40 miles north of Indianapolis — 11 inches, and Churubusco near Fort Wayne got 10 inches.

The weather service said totals in some areas could reach up to 14 inches.

The Indiana Department of Homeland Security reported about 30 counties in northern and central Indiana were asking residents to stay off the roads because of dangerous conditions. Several other counties urged residents to use roads only for essential travel, such as work. The Boone County Sheriff's Department closed State Road 32 because of whiteout conditions.

Indiana State Police said Interstate 70 in western Indiana was snow-covered and hazardous Sunday, with numerous crashes and slide-offs being reported, including three jackknifed tractor-trailers.

Nearly 29,000 customers of Indianapolis Power and Light were without power about 6 p.m. Sunday. Duke Power reported more than 7,000 customers were without power. About 2,300 Indiana Michigan Power customers in Indiana lost service, and Northern Indiana Public Service Co. had 30 in the dark.

In Indianapolis, buildings in parks and at the Marion County Fairgrounds were being opened to provide shelter. The American Red Cross opened three shelters in Indianapolis and another in Muncie. Indianapolis Public Safety Director Troy Riggs said police were only responding to emergency runs and weren't taking accident reports except in cases of serious injury or death.

The governor ordered 24 four-person National Guard teams, each with two vehicles, to be ready to rescue stranded motorists, move people to shelters and assist local emergency management services workers. State officials say more National Guard members may be added if needed.

Armories deploying teams include Brazil, Columbus, Indianapolis, Johnson County, Lebanon, New Albany, Richmond, Scottsburg, Seymour, Shelbyville and Terre Haute.

Carlo Bertolini, a spokesman for the Indianapolis International Airport Authority, said the airport saw about 100 cancellations Sunday, including arrivals and departures. He said the airport did not shut down, even though only about one out of every four flights was operating.

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