Thousands of stranded motorists endured agonizingly long waits Thursday lasting nearly 24 hours for some as a winter storm walloped Kentucky with up to 2 feet of snow and frustrated travelers dealt with gas tanks and stomachs close to empty.
Larry Weas spent a cold night hunkered down in his car after getting caught in a logjam along Interstate 65 near his hometown of Elizabethtown. To conserve fuel during his 11-hour ordeal, he kept his car turned off for long stretches of time and scooped snow into a bucket to have something to drink.
"This has been a lesson of survival," said the 54-year-old man, who is diabetic.
A stranded couple gave him a bottle of Gatorade and candy until a rescue worker took him to town.
The massive traffic jam stretched for about 26 miles, from just north of Elizabethtown past Shepherdsville.
Kenny Thompson huddled overnight on I-65 in his car with some snacks he grabbed for a trip home to Louisville and his smartphone to keep him connected to his family.
Thompson said people would dash quickly out of their cars to go to the bathroom, even hiding behind cars.
"There's no privacy out here," said Thompson, who had been stuck in the logjam since 9 p.m. Wednesday.
While Thompson talked to an AP reporter Thursday afternoon, an emergency worker told him they would be moving soon.
After being stranded along the same interstate for 21 hours, Mike Gee had enough fuel in his truck for another 10 minutes of heat.
"We're in trouble out here. We're in big trouble out here," said the 53-year-old from Clarksville, Tennessee, who was trying to get to Ohio with his wife for a weekend vacation.
National Guard soldiers and emergency workers were dispatched to make safety checks on the frustrated travelers.
"You see miles and miles of tail ends and tail ends. It's not a very good sight," National Guard Spc. Jeriel Clark said as his group of soldiers handed out food and water while patrolling along snowbound Interstate 24 in far western Kentucky.
By Thursday evening, state highway officials said interstate routes in Kentucky were open again. Snow plows kept up their fast pace as dropping temperatures created the risk of icy highways.
Gov. Steve Beshear declared a state of emergency, authorizing the National Guard to help with relief efforts. His office reported that motorists were being evacuated by county emergency personnel, law enforcement and the guard and taken to local shelters.
During the height of one pileup in western Kentucky, more than 400 vehicles were stuck along westbound I-24 between Cadiz and Eddyville, Beshear said.
National Guard Lt. Mathew Murphy was in the thick of the standstill in his Humvee along I-65.
The guardsmen were checking on stranded motorists and taking some people to a warming center in Elizabethtown.
"They're giving us a thumbs up and we're making sure they're OK," he said.
Among the stranded along I-65 were the Rev. Jesse Jackson's wife and other members of his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition staff. The group was on its way to join Jackson in Selma, Alabama, for this weekend's events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Rev. Janette Wilson, the coalition's senior adviser, told The Associated Press in a phone interview that staffers had been stuck on I-65 since 2:30 a.m. Thursday. At one point, they walked two miles to buy snacks at a gas station that was quickly running out of food. She said a nearby McDonald's had already closed down because it ran out of food.
During the day, state highway officials said as soon as progress was made to clear the interstates, new wrecks would cause entanglements and more waits for motorists.
There were no reports of storm-related deaths or widespread power outages in the state, Beshear said.
The National Weather Service said 15 to 20 inches of snow fell across broad swaths of western and central Kentucky.
A reported 25 inches fell near Radcliff in Hardin County, south of Louisville, the weather service said.
Twenty-three inches piled up in parts of Ohio County in western Kentucky, it said. Elsewhere, snowfall totaled 14.7 inches in Louisville, 17.1 inches in Lexington, 20.5 inches in Mount Washington, 19 inches in Bardstown, 18.5 inches in Frankfort and 21.5 inches in Cynthiana.
Paul Impellizzeri was brushing snow off his truck at his Louisville home to make a coffee run Thursday morning. The snow that fell in mid-February had just melted in his neighborhood on Wednesday, he said.
"It's pretty nutty for March, I can tell you that," said Impellizzeri, a computer programmer who was working from home on Thursday. "Generally you expect the trees to be blooming here pretty soon, but not with a foot of snow on the ground."
Associated Press Writer Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.