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Stranded motorists dug out of snow on Pennsylvania Turnpike

  • MICHAEL WATKINS VIA AP

    In this photo provided by Michael Watkins, traffic is at a standstill on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Bedford, Pa., today. The Duquesne men’s basketball team and Temple University’s women’s gymnastics team are stuck on the Turnpike due to treacherous weather conditions.

  • MICHAEL WATKINS VIA AP

    In this photo provided by Michael Watkins, traffic is at a standstill on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Bedford, Pa., today. The Duquesne men’s basketball team and Temple University’s women’s gymnastics team are stuck on the Turnpike due to treacherous weather conditions.

PHILADELPHIA » Snowbound college athletes and teenage parishioners spent a night stranded in a miles-long backup on the Pennsylvania Turnpike with hundreds of other motorists, munching on snacks and watching movies to pass the time, before National Guard members and heavy construction equipment began digging vehicles out today.

More than 500 cars, trucks and buses, some carrying the Duquesne University men’s basketball team and the Temple University women’s gymnastics squad, got stuck Friday night as snow started to fall. The Duquesne and Temple buses were freed Saturday night, and Duquesne posted online video of 15 basketball players, coaches and support staff members helping to push their bus.

A turnpike official said no one was expected to spend a second night on the snow-choked highway. Crews were removing barriers between the eastbound and westbound lanes and allowing vehicles to fuel up at a turnpike maintenance shed before getting off the highway.

Temple gymnastics coach Umme Salim-Beasley said National Guard members handed out military rations.

“They are one by one trying to plow out vehicles and trying to get them moving,” she said.

Father Shaun Whittington, whose Indiana church group was stranded after a trip to Washington, D.C., praised the youngsters traveling with him.

“Our kids have been great through this,” he said. “They haven’t been complaining. But we’re getting close to running out of food.”

The group of more than 90 in a pair of buses was from St. Nicholas parish in Sunman, Indiana, and St. Anthony’s parish in Morris, Indiana, and was returning home after attending the March for Life in Washington.

Duquesne’s bus got stuck Friday night on its way home from an 86-75 win over George Mason in Fairfax, Virginia. The stranded passengers along the turnpike put on brave faces. The players mostly got by on leftover pizza and Gatorade and watched movies including “Invincible.” It was difficult for some of the players, who were quite tall, to sleep on the bus.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s office said the problems in Somerset County began after westbound tractor-trailers were unable to climb a hill. As traffic backed up behind them, more trucks became unable to go up the hill, backing up all vehicles and preventing emergency crews from getting heavy-duty tow trucks to the scene and road crews from being able to clear the snow.

Wolf said each vehicle had been checked at least once and workers had been delivering food and as fuel to make sure engines keep running so the heat can stay on. He said the state was working to get shelters in place quickly so people can be moved to them in buses if necessary.

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