Iowa family vacation

Noemi Curiel and her three children (from left), Eli, Zaray and Jennaliah, enjoy a free breakfast, courtesy of Julie Jensen of Visit Rapid City, at Alternative Fuel Coffee House in downtown Rapid City Monday morning. The family was stranded in their stalled car near Wall during last week's blizzar and continued their spring break vacation in the Black Hills. 

Noemi Curiel wanted to surprise her three children with a spring break vacation to the Black Hills.

The Perry, Iowa, family got more than they bargained for, however. First, they were stranded in the fury of a South Dakota blizzard and then were treated to western hospitality after their rescue.

Curiel and her children — Zaray, 8, Eli, 7, and Jennaliah, 5 — were caught in Wednesday night’s whiteout snowstorm, spending more than three hours trapped in their stalled car somewhere east of Wall on Interstate 90.

Noemi said her mobile phone’s navigation system had apparently routed them back onto I-90 after high winds and heavy snow had closed the highway.

“I couldn’t see anything,” she said. “It was a whiteout.”

Using Noemi’s cellphone signal to pinpoint her location, Pennington County 911 dispatchers, sheriff’s deputies, and Wall firefighters rescued the family, which rode out the remainder of the storm at the Wall Fire Department.

Curiel said her children were initially frightened at being stranded but managed to keep warm with coats and blankets.

Curiel was in contact with deputies who told her to run the car’s engine for 15 minutes each hour to keep warm.

Once firefighters found them, running through the whiteout to their rescue was also scary, Curiel said.

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“Once we got to the fire station, they were fine,” she said of the children. “They were excited to be with the firefighters.”

After their car was dug out, the family decided to continue their trip to the Black Hills.

Over the weekend, they visited Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Crazy Horse Memorial, Reptile Gardens and Dinosaur Park in Rapid City.

Julie Schmitz Jensen of Visit Rapid City heard of the family’s harrowing experience and rescue through news reports. On Monday, Jensen treated the family to breakfast at Alternative Fuel Coffee House in downtown Rapid City.

“We just wanted to thank her for considering us for a spring vacation,” Jensen said. “We wanted to make sure it turned out as great as possible since it started out so traumatic.”

And today, retired interpretive director of Custer State Park, Craig Pugsley, will escort the family on a personal guided tour of the park.

Noemi is happy to see her kids enjoying the trip to the Black Hills after such a harrowing start.

“It’s been good,” she said. “They are having fun.”

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