It was the winter storm against which all others are judged. Forty years ago, Jan. 26, the Blizzard of ‘78 brought heavy snow and strong winds, paralyzing the Swanton area.
The storm began the night before with rain and a flood was reported at Garfield Avenue and Main Street. Shortly after 2 a.m. police officer Linda Ritter reported to Police Chief David McCauley and Streets Superintendent Lewis Taylor that police cruisers could no longer travel Swanton roads.
Conditions continued to deteriorate from there. Over the next four days more than 55 volunteers, along with village employees, made emergency runs around Swanton and to neighboring towns. It was estimated that 25 four-wheel drive vehicles and 15 snowmobiles were in near-constant use.
Reported calls of power outages and telephones problems were light but calls for supplies were plentiful as people were trapped in their homes.
According to the Feb. 2, 1978 issue of the Swanton Enterprise, McCauley had high praise for the cooperative effort of Swanton residents and volunteers. “The head administrations – the mayor and councilmen – were out there in the worst of it carrying people off busses and carrying food,” he said at the time. “Show me another village where all the top guys were out there doing it themselves.”
A caravan of volunteers rescued 42 passengers from two busses stranded on the Ohio Turnpike and brought them back to Swanton High School, where they were housed for three days.
State highway trucks sent out to battle the snow became stuck, and visibility in 70-plus miles per hour wind gusts was reduced to zero. Fulton County Sheriff’s Department deputies were placed in every community by Sheriff Lester Trigg to oversee recovery operations.
Despite all the effort, the Fulton County Disaster Services Agency (DSA) and the sheriff’s department declared the county in a state of emergency the morning of the blizzard. A ban on travel was not lifted until the following Monday, and telephone circuits became overloaded even after residents were asked not to place calls except for emergencies.
The Ohio Turnpike was closed, and emergency crews rescued more than 60 people stranded there. More than 300 people were stranded for nearly five days at the turnpike plazas just east of Swanton.
Rhonda Garman of Swanton was a student at the University of Toledo, living in Parks Towers. The blizzard froze pipes at the dormitory, leaving working restrooms on only the bottom two floors, where Garman had a room.
“We got tired of listening to the (constant) flushing, so we walked over to a friend’s apartment – on top of the snow,” she recalled. “We never sunk in because there was an ice layer on top, but I think it was three feet deep. Our parents were mad that we walked over there in the middle of the blizzard.”
Elaine Sayre Jones had big plans disrupted by the storm. “It was my wedding day and we had to cancel till the following Saturday,” she said.
Bonnie Serr got some extended family time thanks to the blizzard. “I was visiting my parents in Swanton and lived in Toledo,” she said. “That visit lasted over a week.”
David J. Coehrs contributed to this article