Four charter buses full of Kansas City area residents returning from the annual March for Life event in Washington, D.C., spent 22 hours stranded on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on Friday and Saturday as a brutal snowstorm walloped much of the East Coast.
The buses got caught up in a massive backup Friday night that started in Somerset County when westbound tractor-trailer rigs couldn’t make it up a hill. They remained stuck there until about 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
“We have about 150 people from all over the Kansas City metro area,” said Rick Boyle, a deacon at Church of the Good Shepherd in Smithville and captain of the lead bus in the caravan. “We got stranded at 9:22 last night. We’re at mile marker 133 on the turnpike.”
Boyle, a Marine veteran, said organizers knew the storm was on the way but thought they could get ahead of it. They pulled out of Union Station in Washington at 4 p.m. Friday after participating in the march, which is held each year in opposition to Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized abortion on Jan. 22, 1973.
“We were monitoring it (the storm) very closely,” Boyle said Saturday in a phone interview from the bus. “We modified our plans and moved the schedules up to get out of Washington. We were making good progress, but then 10 to 15 miles ahead of us was where the backup started. Then when we all came to a stop, it allowed the snow to accumulate around us. Now it’s higher than the front bumper of the buses.”
He estimated that “well over a foot” of snow had fallen.
“There’s … probably 40 buses within a mile of us either direction, from all different places,” he said.
Boyle said about two-thirds of those in the group are under age 20, and the rest are adults.
“The kids are all taking it in stride,” he said. “Fortunately, we’d stopped at a truck stop about 30 miles back and topped off all the buses with fuel. So we’ve got plenty of fuel, we’ve got plenty of water. What we don’t have plenty of is food.”
He said most people brought snacks and everyone had been sharing.
“But the bags of chips and peanuts and all that stuff has pretty much run out at this point,” he said late Saturday afternoon.
The buses originally were scheduled to arrive in Blue Springs around 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
Instead, after the bus finally moved again around 7:30 p.m., the group spent the night at an American Legion in Bedford, Pa.
During their hours on the bus, Boyle said, the stranded passengers were able to communicate by cellphone.
“Almost everybody brought phone chargers and the bus has outlets,” he said, “so we’re able to keep things charged.”
He said the toilets on the bus were “starting to get pretty full” but were still usable.
To pass the time, he said, they’ve watched lots of movies and played cards.
“After a while, you kind of get bus crazy,” he said. “We get out and have snowball fights and after 15, 20 minutes, back on the bus and put movies in.”
Boyle said it stopped snowing around 3 p.m. Saturday, but by the end of the interview he said it had started up again.
“But it’s very light,” he said. “Let’s hope we can start moving soon. This is my ninth year as bus captain, and it’s one I’ll never forget.”
Isabella Creedon, 16, of the Good Shepherd parish, said everyone was handling the situation well.
“It was kind of scary last night when it was snowing really heavily and we stopped and nobody knew why,” she said. “Now we’re just tired of being on the bus. We all have plenty of snack food, but we’re getting pretty tired of granola bars.”
She said they’d also watched “an entire disc” of old “Full House” episodes.
“Hopefully, we’ll be on our way soon.”
Despite the ordeal, Creedon said, the trip was worth it.
“Yesterday was my third March for Life,” she said. “And it was the best so far.”