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Family takes in stranded travelers

By Kelli Stopczynski
Published On: Jan 07 2014 08:30:53 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 07 2014 09:32:07 PM CST

WSBT's Kelli Stopczynski has the heartwarming story in the middle of this cold, wintry weather. A northern Indiana family took in several strangers stranded in the snow.

The Blizzard of 2014 is a storm four Northwest Indiana families will never forget. Together, they turned a very dangerous situation into a story of kindness, warmth and inspiration.

“The winds, they were just shaking the car,” recalled Claudia Garcia. “I was very afraid.”

Claudia and her husband, Rigo, were heading home to Crown Point from Winamac on State Road 8 Sunday night through heavy snow and wind when the cars in front of them suddenly stopped.

They had no choice but to stop too, so they called police for help.

“They said, ‘Right now we can’t send anyone out to get you. They’ve declared a State of Emergency, I’m sorry and good luck,’” Claudia said.

In the next 30 minutes, snow nearly swallowed their SUV, just outside Kouts.

“As grim as it may sound, we started calling our kids and family members and kind of started talking to them. We really didn’t know how much battery we had left in our phone, how much gas left in our car and we really didn’t want to think about what we were going to do when we ran out of gas,” Rigo explained.

Then, through the swirling snow and wind they saw lights.

“It was almost surreal,” Rigo recalled. “The lights were sitting about 20 feet up in the air, so we didn’t know what it was at first.”

It was Chris Birky, inside his tractor, plowing through huge snow drifts to help.

“I realized they weren’t going to be able to make it through so I called [my wife] and said, ‘You probably out to get the house ready because we’re going to have people staying over,’” he said.

Rigo and Claudia weren’t the only ones stranded. Another married couple and a father and son were also stuck on the state highway.

“We had no idea where we were walking into, what we were walking into,” Claudia recounted. “Knowing we had other people with us made it easier. And as soon as they opened the door and we saw these four beautiful children, it just melted my heart and I knew we were going to be OK.”

The six strangers stayed with the Birkys Sunday night, Monday night and were finally able to get out to a main road Tuesday morning.

“I don’t think they understood that they really dropped a pebble in a pond,” Rigo said. “The response we’re getting from our friends and family – it’s time for all of us to kind of pay it forward. That’s what we’re planning to do.”

But the Birkys are humble about what they did.

“We just feel like it’s what you do. God told us to love one another and that’s what we believe,” Chris said. “If we would have been afraid and not done anything, we would have really missed the opportunity to meet these great people we got to know.”

The families say they know they were brought together for a reason and they’re already planning to see each other again soon – hopefully in better weather.