When Fairplay emergency shelter ran out of the blankets on Saturday night, Nov. 30, volunteers went door-to-door collecting extras from local people.
The managers let stranded travelers sleep in the lobbies when the hotels ran out of the rooms. When the shelter’s cots are full, volunteers laid out the wrestling mats of the high school to try to keep as many people off the floor as possible.
A group of volunteers came in to help manage the crowd as the sheer number of those stranded strained local resources.
“Words don’t even describe what this small group of volunteers pulled off here,” said Dave Kintz, chairman of the South Park Salvation Army.
After high winds on Friday and Saturday, more than 700 people were trapped in Fairplay, blowing snow and low visibility made travel difficult at the height of the post-Thanksgiving rush and closed a long stretch of U.S. 285, which was closed on Sunday along the Kenosha Pass.
“They absolutely could not move,” Stanley said. “I think the last rescue vehicle came into my office just before midnight.”
The main shelter of the county, a community center, was designed to hold 50 people—but on Friday 112 people stayed there until the power went out and the shelter lost heat, forcing everyone to transfer to South Park High School.
The town of 762 people sheltered 300 people overnight on Friday and 446 people on Saturday, Park County emergency management Director Gene Stanley said. Authorities rescued motorists from at least 30 cars stranded on Saturday along the U.S. 285, using tracked vehicles to reach drivers.
On Friday, Fairplay’s few hotels filled up, said Dee Patel, Riverside Inn’s manager. She let travelers sleep in the hallways and lobby after all 50 of her rooms were booked, passing out hot chocolate, tea, and extra blankets and pillows.
“I cannot say no,” she said. “A lot of people had little babies and kids with them.”
Kintz, who is also the coroner of Park County, said a core group of about 30 Salvation Army volunteers, the CARE coroner’s team, and two local churches were critical in keeping the shelter running smoothly and ensuring that everyone was fed.
He said that in his 17-year career in emergency services, the number of stranded travelers was unprecedented.
Authorities brought vehicles that had been abandoned on the highways to the shelter Sunday and reconnected drivers to their cars. Most people were able to leave the shelter on Sunday, and as the weather cleared, the shelter at the high school was expected to close on Sunday evening.
“Now,” Stanley said, “we are cleaning up the mess.”