At least seven people were hospitalized after Donald Trump threw a rally at Nebraska’s Eppley Airfield near Omaha in freezing temperatures on Tuesday night. The president promptly jetted off afterward, leaving thousands of attendees in hours-long lines for campaign buses to return them to the parking lot, leading several exposed to the elements long enough to require medical attention.
Per the Omaha World-Herald, some 21,000 people were in attendance at the rally, where rally-goers parked in lots miles away and were ferried to and from the event in 40 campaign-chartered Arrow Stage Lines buses with a capacity of 54 people each. (That’s a combined capacity of 2,160 at any given time.) Trump ended his remarks at the airport around 8:00 p.m. local time, while some attendees didn’t get back to their cars until after 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
In the interim, they were left waiting in bone-chilling Nebraska weather. According to Weather Underground, temperatures on Tuesday reached a low of 22 degrees Fahrenheit.
Omaha police confirmed to the Washington Post at least 30 attendees required medical attention.
According to the Iowa Starting Line, the event was chaotic from the start, with confusion over which lots were available leading to cars “lined up for miles trying to get into the airport” around the suggested arrival time of 4:30 p.m. It then took some attendees hours simply to board a bus entering the event, an additional half an hour to make the 3.5-mile drive to a different part of the airport hosting the event, whereupon attendees waited in one to two hour lines for seating.
Kris Beckenbach, a Trump campaign volunteer, told the World-Herald that “we were all parked over at Eppley. We were 3½ miles through darkness to get there. There was no direction given. I expected at the end of the rally somebody will say, ‘Go this way and there will be buses waiting’... [the buses were there but] didn’t come back for an hour and a half.”
Beckenbach told the paper she didn’t blame the campaign, saying, “how do you practice for that?” (Making sure stuff like this doesn’t happen is an event organizer’s entire job.) She added it was “really rough” on attendees, some of whom she saw being assisted by emergency responders, but that at any large event attendees are “going to have to take care of [themselves] and there’s going to be waiting.” Beckenbach concluded the interview with the World-Herald by referring to the incident as an “adventure.”
Being literally left out in the cold is just one of the hazards attendees to Trump rallies may face. The novel coronavirus has also found ample breeding grounds at gatherings of Trump supporters, many of whom aren’t taking the whole social distancing and face mask routine very seriously. Trump has routinely mocked preventative measures against the virus, like masks, and his White House chief of staff recently said the administration has given up on controlling the pandemic’s spread.
The president has continued to hold in-person events, despite evidence a Rose Garden event in September and his campaign rallies (such as one in Tulsa in June) have fueled coronavirus outbreaks. The Trump campaign had attendees at the Tulsa event sign waivers in advance freeing it of liability for any resulting coronavirus cases.