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Shoppers take shelter in Grand Forks arena

Red Cross pitches in to help stranded city expedition

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Marcia Desmedt, Ola Fedorkiw and Heather Black (from left) bed down in arena.

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SUBMITTED PHOTO Marcia Desmedt, Ola Fedorkiw and Heather Black (from left) bed down in arena.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Snowdrifts block cars on Silver Avenue west of Inglewood Street Tuesday.

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WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Snowdrifts block cars on Silver Avenue west of Inglewood Street Tuesday.

Thanks to the American Red Cross, a busload of 38 Winnipeg shoppers trapped in Grand Forks by the snowstorm ended up sleeping on emergency cots with grey wool blankets Monday night, using their purses and sweaters as pillows.

The Red Cross originally expected to set up the Alerus Center, an indoor arena and entertainment facility adjacent to the Canad Inn, for the stranded women from Canada.

However, more than 200 other people arrived Monday night after the centre opened its doors to the Canadians, who were desperate for beds and shelter.

The border was closed, the highways impassable, and the busload trapped in Grand Forks couldn't find a place to stay.

The long-weekend shoppers, who went to Fargo and Grand Forks for a three-day shopping blitz, escaped the storm in the makeshift shelter, for which they were grateful to the American Red Cross, which mobilized on a dime.

"No room at the inn!" was the bitter news trip organizers Franca Cannata and Christian Tompkins heard over and over in Grand Forks during Monday's storm.

With killer temperatures and a complete whiteout on area highways, traffic was at a standstill and not one hotel room in the entire city was available.

It was the last night of what had been a deluxe Presidents Day weekend shopping bus trip in Fargo. The bus, driven by retired police officer Tom Mah, managed to get from Fargo to Grand Forks Monday morning in hopes of a last afternoon of shopping and the border perhaps reopening by suppertime.

But the storm suddenly worsened around noon and the Columbia Mall surprised everyone by closing at 1 p.m. and sending staff home.

With no rooms available in the North Dakota city, Cannata and Tompkins took their anxious group to Buffalo Wild Wings for "happy" hour.

A server, hearing their plight. suggested calling the Red Cross. Police were notified, too, and Grand Forks swung into action, opening the 21,000-seat Alerus Center for about 250 stranded travellers.

maureen.scurfield@freepress.mb.ca

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