EFFINGHAM — The Ron Diehl Center was a happening place Monday night and well into Tuesday as a result of stranded travelers and no available hotel rooms locally.
American Red Cross volunteer Samantha Lloyd said Tuesday that 218 people spent Monday night at the community recreation center on South Fourth Street operated by the Effingham Park District. By noon, that number had dropped to 120, she said.
"We've had 30 or 40 people leave since 8 a.m.," Lloyd said. Others left even earlier, despite snow-packed roads that made travel an adventure even within the city of Effingham.
While travelers were scattered throughout the Diehl Center, except for the closed-off gymnasium, many of them were gathering in the center's large meeting room near the front of the building. And, everybody had a different story to tell.
Astou Seye, originally from the West African nation of Senegal, has only lived in the United States one year. Seye and husband Chiekh, a biochemistry professor at Indiana University/Purdue University-Indianapolis, were traveling from Columbia, Mo. to Indianapolis Monday when they tired of the icy, slick interstate highways.
"The weather was not good," Mrs. Seye said. "Looking for a hotel was not good, either.
"We went to the Hampton Inn and they gave us the address for the Rec Center, because all the hotels were full," she added.
Tangled semi traffic around area truck stops caused Effingham city officials to designate a number of area parking lots as stopping points for trucks. The Village Square Mall was one of those places. And, Eric Mullins of Las Vegas was one of about a half dozen truckers parked in the mall's west parking lot. Unlike many other stranded truckers, Mullins was actually where he was supposed to be — making a delivery behind the Dollar General store in front of the mall. He was driven inside after the semi's battery died this morning, cutting off heat to his sleeper cab in below-zero weather.
Mullins, who picked up his load Monday in Fulton, Mo., said Interstate 70 didn't start getting bad until the Highland-Greenville area about an hour west of Effingham.
"It was bad," he said. "I saw a lot of vehicles on the median and the side of the road."
For more, see Wednesday's print edition.
Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or at email@example.com