Hungary comes to the rescue of DFW students stuck in the snow

Posted Friday, Mar. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- Some civics lessons take place in classrooms, but 12 North Texas students got a lesson in international relations when they were stuck for more than 24 hours in a bus on a snow-blocked road in Hungary.

Hungarian volunteers dubbed "the Dream Team with a green Jeep" came to their rescue, offering shelter and food.

"It's something I am always going to remember -- what the people of Gyor did for me," said Meredith Johnston, a 15-year-old sophomore at Arlington High School.

Johnston was one of the young ambassadors chosen to travel during spring break to Budapest, Hungary, through a program with Fort Worth Sister Cities International. Budapest is a Sister City of Fort Worth.

They left North Texas on March 9 and returned Sunday.

In between, they experienced a headline-making European snowstorm.

MSN News said: "Hungary sends in tanks as cold snap grips Eastern Europe."

Hundreds of vehicles were stuck for hours between Budapest and Vienna, Austria, according to news reports.

On March 14, the Sister Cities group, which included students, teachers and chaperons, was on its way back to Budapest from a side trip to Vienna when the bus stopped moving because of snow.

"I thought it was just a traffic jam," Johnston said.

But the group had to spend the night on the bus. Outside, the temperature was about 15 degrees, but the bus was warm, she said.

"Our phones were dead, so we couldn't contact our parents," she said.

Then help arrived, jump-started by Facebook.

In an email, Csaba Rosta, one of the Hungarian rescuers, said they were out trying to help people stuck in the storm when they heard about an American student group.

Rosta said they worked with rescue personnel -- firefighters and Austrian highway workers -- to clear a path to the bus.

"Finally, we had luck to reach them," Rosta wrote. "They reported about the past 24 hours, they spent in the bus, without appropriate food and drink. The driver was in trouble with the petrol since he kept the engine running all night long."

The rescuers got the students to Gyor and alerted the community that they needed accommodations, Rosta said. Volunteers took the students into their homes. Johnston was finally able to send her mom an update.

"Hi mom, it's Meredith," she said in a March 16 email. "I'm sure you have heard by now that we became stranded for over 24 hours in between two blockades because snow was more than 3 meters high during a snow storm with winds at 160 kilo. per hour. Apparently, a storm like this hasn't happened since 1942. Somehow, the fact that several people were stranded was released on Facebook and a group was formed to rescue everyone."

Mae Ferguson, president/CEO of Fort Worth Sister Cities, said the trip aimed to teach young people how to build strong global relationships.

Johnston, who wants to study international relations, said she saw diplomacy in action and made Hungarian friends. And she won't forget how the community rallied to help the group.

"The town was kind to us and so sweet," she said.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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