By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Mike Lujan said he’s lived in Carbon County his whole life, and he’s never seen a storm like this one.
“I’m old already,” Lujan laughed. “I listen to 70s rock and roll, okay? And I don’t know if it’s the worst, but it’s as bad as I can remember it being.”
It was so bad, said the Rawlins Search and Rescue volunteer, that even the emergency services vehicles needed rescuing.
“We had sheriff’s deputies that were off the road, so we assisted with them,” Lujan told Cowboy State Daily. “And we had an ambulance that became stuck, so we had to go get the ambulance.”
The snow drifts were otherworldly, according to Lujan.
“We fought six-foot drifts across the interstate, and I’m not exaggerating,” he said. “It probably took us four hours to get 15 miles.”
A Team Effort
Lujan and his fellow volunteers were among the dozens of people working around the clock to restore power to outlying communities and to rescue workers that had become stranded out in the oil fields. He and his fellow volunteers even assisted the senior center in getting meals to vulnerable adults.
“Our members assisted with the little things, which really were big things,” said Lujan. “The Meals on Wheels for the senior citizens, we had to help get meals to those people, and we shuttled the hospital people back and forth to work. All those little things make up a big part of the puzzle.”
Sheriff Alex Bakken praised the various agencies that responded to the emergency on his official Facebook page.
“Carbon County truly came together last night in the face of an undeniably disastrous extreme weather event,” Bakken posted on Thursday. “Crews from numerous agencies worked all night and well into the morning, ensuring all critical rescues were completed and everyone returned home safely.”
From rescuing stranded workers in the oil field south of Creston Junction, to providing assistance to residents without heat and power, personnel from Carbon County Road and Bridge, Wyoming Highway Patrol, the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT), Baggs Fire Rescue, Valley Search and Rescue, Classic Air, Rawlins Search and Rescue, Carbon County Emergency Management, and Sheriff’s Office Personnel were kept busy from Tuesday morning through Friday.
Lujan had nothing but admiration for the leadership that kept the emergency response organized.
“When you see the chief of police out assisting motorists all day long, and you have a sheriff who was newly elected, who had to get to work on a snowmobile, that speaks volumes,” he said. “I mean, he lives out of town and had to ride a snow machine to town to come to work to assist.”
A tool that made it possible to restore power to residents of the tiny town of Bairoil was a recent acquisition by Carbon County – the Hagglund is an over-the-road workhorse capable of traveling in snowy conditions at near-road speed.
Lenny Layman, emergency manager for Carbon County, said the vehicle was delivered to Carbon County just weeks ago – perfect timing to be useful in this dangerous storm.
“It’s a two unit tracked vehicle that articulates – it’s like a snowcat, but it can drive highway speeds and be on and off road,” Layman told Cowboy State Daily. “And it’s also amphibious.”
Layman said the vehicle cost the county roughly $180,000, but every dollar has been worth it, in his view.
“We took ownership of it at the end of last year, and it now has over 80 hours on it,” he said. “It was our primary tool that was being used for search and rescue.”
But one Hagglund wasn’t enough to cover the entire county during this storm – Layman said an additional Hagglund was lent to the county from Laramie County to perform rescues near Hanna while Carbon County’s was tied up in Bairoil and Muddy Gap.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
Lujan said he was inspired by the number of people he witnessed helping out their neighbors.
“(I saw) people in their personal vehicles getting other vehicles unstuck, and helping their neighbors shovel their snow and shoveling their walks,” said Lujan, “so these little ladies, bless their hearts, can get out as we get services to them.”
Lujan described how he and his fellow volunteers rescued an elderly woman from her RV at one of the campgrounds.
“We physically carried a sweet little 94-year-old lady in our arms out to our tracked vehicle and shuttled her to a hotel because she had no food or heat,” said Lujan.
Layman said the cooperation of residents helped to mitigate the number of rescues that could have bogged down the county’s resources further.
“We did a travel advisory for Carbon County, we asked for no unnecessary travel, and I believe that that helped,” he said. “Most of our residents honored that.”
Layman also made the recommendation that the county commissioners declare an emergency, which allows resources to flow from the state to the county.
“That was a huge collaboration effort between the county commissioners, the county clerk, and myself in homeland security,” he said.
Sheriff Bakken pointed out that without the cooperation of residents and emergency workers, the aftermath of the storm could have been much worse.
“We would like to thank every single one of you who stepped up and came together to help the people of Carbon County last night,” he wrote in his Facebook post. “Without your teamwork, yesterday’s events could have easily ended with tragic outcomes.”