Thousands stranded in cold, 7 hospitalized, after bus snag at Trump Omaha rally
OMAHA, Neb. (WKBT) — The thousands of President Donald Trump supporters who attended his rally in West Salem Tuesday fared better than those stranded in freezing temperatures — seven were hospitalized overnight for hypothermia — after his Omaha pep talk that night because buses couldn’t reach them, according to Omaha police.
The problem arose because the 40 buses that had ferried most of the 25,000 people from remote lots to the rally site at Eppley Airfield over a 10-hour period were woefully inadequate when it came time to take them back to their cars, police said.
“We need at least 30 more buses,” an Omaha police officer said, shaking his head.
Although an undisclosed number left before the rally ended at 9 p.m., the 50-passenger buses also had trouble navigating the roads around the airport. Complicating the matter was the fact that hundreds had given up hope about a shuttle ride and began walking 3 to 4 miles to their cars, further clogging the streets, police said.
“President Trump took off in Air Force One 1 hr 20 minutes ago, but thousands of his supporters remain stranded on a dark road outside the rally,” CNN reporter Jeff Zeleny tweeted in Omaha at 10:21 p.m.
The temperature when the Omaha rally started was about 32 degrees, with wind chills increasing the frost factor, compared with mid-30s temperatures before and when Trump spoke in West Salem before flying to Omaha. More than 12,000 and as many as 16,000 attended the rally at the La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway, said county Republican chairman Bill Feehan.
In Omaha, police issued a statement saying that first responders dealt with 30 people for medical reasons throughout the day, and seven were taken to hospitals.
“Many people underestimated the distance from the event back to the parking lot on foot,” Omaha police spokesman said Michael Pecha.
Police officers tried to control the nightmarish scene. Trump campaign advance teams could not be found. One local advance volunteer said they were given no instructions how to get supporters back onto the buses.
Earlier in the night, the president had commented on the weather.
“I mean, I’m standing here freezing. I ask you one little favor: Get the hell out and vote,” Trump said to cheers from the crowd. “The great red wave. At least you’re down there with each other. I’m all up here and that wind is blowing.”
The last of the rally attendees were able to leave around midnight, police said.
Trump deputy national press secretary Samantha Zager issued a statement saying that the 40 shuttle buses were twice the number the campaign nearly deploys for rallies.
But “local road closures and resulting congestion caused delays,” she said.
“At the guest departure location, we had tents, heaters, generators, hot cocoa and hand warmers available for guests,” Zager said. “We always strive to provide the best guest experience at our events and we care about their safety.”
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Wednesday referred to the incident to criticize it, comparing it to Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s an image that captured President Trump’s whole approach to this crisis,” Biden said.
This story includes information from The Associated Press and other wire services.