Nebraska students headed home after being stranded for almost 24 hours

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Hundreds of Nebraska students are moving again after being stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for almost 24 hours when a massive snowstorm hit the northeast.

The students and their chaperones were in Washington D.C. Friday for the March for Life and were on the way back when their buses got stuck near Breezewood, Pennsylvania.

The mother of one of the teen's aboard a stranded bus, Elaine Mann, said her daughter Lauren, 16, was doing fine while the wait was on. Lauren is a junior at Omaha's Duchesne Academy.

WOWT 6 News spoke with Lauren by phone Saturday morning. Lauren said there were six busloads of students from Omaha and Norfolk trapped on the turnpike, an estimated 350 people in all. She said they were playing in the snow and making the best of it.

"I've never seen this much snow in my life! We've been here about 15 hours." That was as of 10:30 a.m. "Everyone is doing well. We have water and snacks and food and emergency vehicles have been by to help and they been providing water and making sure we are okay. But yes, we spent the night on the bus last night and I'm thinking we'll be out of here in a few hours."

Elaine confirmed that the kids are doing well but, "In my opinion they should have stayed in D.C."

“We were originally supposed to leave Washington, D.C. on Saturday and then we thought we would sort of try to outrun the snowstorm and we've been driving right into it, so we left D.C about 3:30 yesterday and we got stuck at probably around 7:30 p.m.," said Lauren.

Other high schools with students on the stranded buses include Skutt, Gretna, Roncalli, Mercy, Prep and Mt. Michael as well as students from the homeschool community.

“We were trying to just get outside and burn some energy and I don't know, it was really fun,” said Duchesne senior Brittany Wichman. She said at first, many were nervous. “After awhile, it got more stressful as we continued not to move but then everyone just kind of like stayed calm. It was really nice."

Lauren said before the trip they were instructed to bring extra snacks for the bus, so there was plenty to eat and emergency personnel have been passing out water and food to those stranded. "When we climbed out of the bus this morning it was up to our mid-thighs. I don't think it's anything any of us will ever experience again."

"I never expected anything like this," added Brittany.

Matthew Pohlman, an Omaha Skutt High School student, was among those stuck on the turnpike. "There are loads of buses backed up and the snow is reportedly 30 inches high. I believe it."

Amy Masek shared a photo of Mass being held outside of one bus, saying, "That's the perseverance and spirit of the folks!"

Officials confirmed pockets of stranded motorists in the westbound lanes of the Pennsylvania Turnpike near the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel in Somerset County. The National Guard was called out.

Pennsylvania Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said he was aware of some of pockets of traffic, two to three miles in length, stuck on the turnpike in the western part of the state as the storm moved through. He said some travelers were stuck overnight.

Snow started falling Friday, but the worst was yet to come with strong winds and heavy snow expected to produce "life-threatening blizzard conditions" throughout the day Saturday.

Caitlin Centner, a reporter with our sister station WKYT, was among the motorists stranded along Interstate 75 in Kentucky. She told viewers from inside her news van that the experience has been crazy, with wind and snow building as drivers turn off cars to save gas.

Centner went on air from the van Friday night. She'd been stranded for several hours and said the interstate had been closed because of crashes. "Every time it looks like there's light at the end of the tunnel, more accidents and slide-offs are occurring."

Centner interviewed Rebekah Sams, who was stranded making her way to a volleyball tournament. "You never imagine yourself being out here for five hours during a snowstorm."

WKYT Reporter Stuck in Storm