Stranded for roughly 24 hours in two packed buses stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, 80 university students from Lincoln and Kearney were growing frustrated late Saturday with little sign of rescue coming.
But at around 9:30 p.m. Eastern time, volunteer firemen arrived and dug out the buses, then sent the students the wrong way. Turned back east, the busloads are now on their way to an elementary school in Bedford, Pennsylvania, where they will spend at least the night. Once there, the students planned to look for something to eat.
The students from Lincoln and Kearney had set off Wednesday night to participate in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
They began their return trip after Friday’s march but didn't get far.
For almost exactly 24 hours, the buses didn’t move an inch on the turnpike outside of New Baltimore, Pennsylvania.
Other buses from the Lincoln area were also caught in the storm, but they began moving again Saturday afternoon.
Youth ministry assistant leader for the Lincoln Diocese Georgeanne Rashilla was on one those buses and said she expected to be back in Lincoln late Sunday morning.
"The kids have been absolutely amazing," Rashilla said by cell phone. "They have been so patient."
But the two chartered buses filled with University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Nebraska at Kearney students were stranded for hours longer.
They left Washington, D.C., around 3 p.m., leaving four hours earlier than planned and also skipping scheduled stops in an effort to beat the storm.
Their efforts didn't pay off.
Their unexpected halt began at 9 p.m. Friday.
"We have now spent more time on this bus longer than we were in Washington, D.C.," Alexa Birkel, a junior and president of UNL’s Students For Life, texted Saturday afternoon.
According to Marilyn Synek, who is a UNK sophomore and vice president of Kearney’s chapter of Students For Life, the students were told an accident had happened on the road ahead.
And so for mounting hours, the students were stuck at mile marker 133.6 in southern Pennsylvania.
“We’ve been very calm,” Synek said while waiting to be dug out. “Needless to say, we’re very antsy. Some of the groups went and frolicked in snow to burn energy, but besides that we’ve been playing cards, doing homework, watching videos or playing games on our phones.”
Some of the students held an impromptu Mass.
Firemen stopped by early Saturday morning and provided bottled water, while some of those on the bus filled their bottles with melting snow.
They also shared items from a stockpile of snacks -- Pop-Tarts, crackers, fruit snacks.
“On both sides of me, there are brilliant, pretty hills covered in snow and trees, a very scenic view,” Synek said earlier in the afternoon. “But looking in front of me, I see all these trucks and buses piled up with snow on it.”
Birkel of Students For Life said that despite the chaos, making the trip east was well worth the trouble.
“The March For Life is probably our best event of the year, because it brings so many students together for a great cause and it motivates people to be more involved in the pro-life movement,” she said. “And we got to do exactly what we came there for, which is march for the unborn babies.”