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Stranded school kids in southern Minnesota blizzard slept on mats overnight

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Stranded school kids in southern Minnesota blizzard slept on mats overnight
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

WESTBROOK-- An impromptu slumber party at Westbrook-Walnut Grove schools ended well, with all students being delivered home safely Tuesday morning, reported a slightly sleepy Bill Richards, principal at Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School.

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Students slept on wrestling mats in a high school gym and donned costumes from the theater department to keep warm after hundreds of people were stranded by a powerful winter storm that forced roads to close across southern Minnesota.

Impassable roads in Westbrook kept 100 students overnight at the high school and another 100 at the elementary school in Walnut Grove.

"It went fine; the kids are great and there were a lot of teachers here and the staff to help out. The cooks were here. We had an evening meal and they made brownies for us later and in the morning they had an egg bake," Richards detailed.

The decision to keep students was made Monday morning, when poor road conditions forced one of the district's buses to turn back.

"We were looking at the weather, and about 9:30 a.m. or so we thought this is turning pretty bad. We sent a bus up from Westbrook to Walnut Grove and it got to the edge of town and that was enough," he said. Students who lived in town or had predesignated "snow homes" where they could stay were allowed to leave. The rest of the students were told they'd need to stick around until conditions were safe.

In Westbrook, the stranded students played basketball, danced, watched movies and played board games, Superintendent Loy Woelber told KLGR Radio of Redwood Falls. Maynards Food Center donated toothbrushes and deodorant so the students could have some semblance of hygiene; and the library, computer labs, weight room and music room were open for them to use until they settled in to sleep in the gym.

"Boys on one side and girls on the other side and me in the middle," Richards explained. Other faculty rotated in through the night to make sure everyone was OK. "Some were out like a light; for others it was hard for them to sleep, but they were polite to each other," he added.

Local residents had donated pillows and blankets, but some students were still cold, so Richards scoured the theater department for fur coats and other warm clothes.

"It's such an odd thing to happen," Richards said. "I've been in education about 40 years. ... we had one near call where we had to keep them until maybe six or so, but never this great opportunity. It's just better to be safe; you can get through the evening."

The blizzard advisory lifted about 4 a.m. and students were bused home around 9:30 a.m. The schools were closed Tuesday.

"They're tired and they stink," Richards joked. Classes were actually cancelled for other reasons.

"If the wind comes back up we're in trouble again," he said. "We wanted to make sure the kids got home. For us, most of the kids were actually town kids from the opposite community so we could make sure they got home from their difficult commute."

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