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Weather closes major roads in Oregon, causes early school dismissal

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This photo taken by the Oregon Department of Transportation shows blowing snow on the highway, which caused havoc for Wednesday drivers in Oregon.

Blowing snow Wednesday caused the closure for several hours of some Oregon thoroughfares, early release for students and bus route cancellations.

Highway 11 between Milton-Freewater and Pendleton was closed in certain locations because of limited visibility from about 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Highway 204, the Tollgate Highway, was closed to all except local traffic due to severe weather and remained closed as of 2:45 p.m., according to Tom Strandberg, Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman. It will reopen when conditions improve.

By 2 p.m., Athena-Weston School District Administrative Assistant Paula Warner said most of the students who live in Milton-Freewater had been already picked up by their parents as news of the highway’s worsening condition became known.

“We’re calling parents to come and get their kids, and we’ll be here until they get picked up. We’ll have a slumber party,” Warner said.

The district had already canceled its mountain and river area bus routes for the day.

Although the Milton-Freewater Unified School District has just one student who lives off that stretch of Highway 11, the situation canceled an out-of-town game for a basketball team, Superintendent Aaron Duff said.

If the road had stayed closed, Duff knew the community would step forward to help anyone stranded in town and to keep people from driving in dangerous conditions, he said.

“I’m telling people, ‘Be safe, don’t make bad decisions. Be aware of drivers who are frustrated and are going to make bad decisions for the rest of the evening.’”

For updates on travel conditions, visit or call 511 or 800-977-6368.

People outside of Oregon can call 503-588-2941.

Emily Thornton can be reached at or 509-526-8325.

Emily Thornton covers courts and emergency services, as well as other various stories. She has been in the newspaper industry off and on since roughly 1999 and lived primarily on the West Coast, but also Florida and Europe.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.