Woman Survives Days Trapped in Van After Snowstorm

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An older woman had been living in her van on a Newark street, trying to stay warm. Then came the snowstorm.

The woman, 77, ended up being trapped in the van for four days after plows clearing the street surrounded the vehicle with snow.

The woman, whom the police identified as Janet Ward, said she had parked the van near Lincoln Park, not far from downtown, late on Sunday. The storm that started that night dumped more than 17 inches of snow on Newark, a National Weather Service meteorologist said.

When Ms. Ward woke up, she said, according to a report on News 12 New Jersey, “I saw I was plowed in and snow everywhere.”

“I was blowing the horn to tell them I was in here,” Ms. Ward continued. “But they didn’t get the message, so I’ve been in here ever since.”

Ms. Ward said that she called 911 for help, but that nobody came to get her for some time. She survived on food and water she had in the van.

Ras J. Baraka, Newark’s mayor, said Ms. Ward’s rescue was delayed because an emergency services operator took down the wrong address when she first called for help on Wednesday afternoon.

“Police officers called her back for the correct address but received no answer,” Mr. Baraka said.

Anthony F. Ambrose, Newark’s public safety director, said in an interview on Friday that when the operators who took the initial call asked Ms. Ward if she needed medical assistance, she said, “No, no, I just got to get out.”

Mr. Ambrose said in a statement on Thursday that “in light of the woman’s age and the fact that she’s a resident without an address, we combed through our records to pinpoint exactly when this incident was initially reported to us,” but were unable to locate her on Wednesday.

According to the statement, Ms. Ward was able to reach the Newark Fire Division around 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, and firefighters soon arrived and cleared a path so she could leave the van.

“We regret that human error played a role in delaying our response to the correct address, although we attempted to call her for a correction,” Mr. Ambrose said in the statement. “I’m grateful that she reached out again today and that this incident didn’t end tragically.”

Getting trapped by snow in a vehicle can happen — a man in Owego, N.Y., spent about 10 hours trapped in his car after mechanical problems in December — but it is usually a matter of hours, not days.

In Newark, Miguel Guadalupe, 53, a carpenter and a patient at Cura, an addiction treatment center near Lincoln Park, said he was on his lunch break on Thursday when someone asked him to help dig Ms. Ward’s van out of the remaining snow.

Mr. Guadalupe asked for permission to help from Christina Mascuch, Cura’s director of treatment, and soon rounded up six more people to free the vehicle from snow they said was as high as four feet in some places. With all the extra hands, it took only about 20 minutes.

“She was crying, she gave me a hug, she said I was her savior,” Mr. Guadalupe said.

Ms. Mascuch also brought food and drinks from Cura’s kitchen for Ms. Ward, who drove off to pick up medicine.

Mr. Guadalupe and Ms. Mascuch said that Ms. Ward was a familiar person in the neighborhood and that she had been living in her van near Lincoln Park for some time.

Ms. Mascuch said she had tried to help Ms. Ward find a suitable shelter.

“From what I understand, she’s afraid of shelters,” Ms. Mascuch said on Friday.

Sakinah Hoyte, Newark’s homelessness czar, said in an email on Friday that Ms. Ward had accepted a permanent residence through a senior housing program.

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