(Reuters) - `For Niagara University's women's basketball team, the experience of being stranded for more than 24 hours on a bus during a massive western New York snowstorm was a bit frightening, but the players say the ordeal helped bring them closer together.
The team, rescued early Wednesday morning in an area south of Buffalo that was buried under 5 feet (1.5 meters) of snow, realized their situation was dire when head coach Kendra Faustin decided it was time to melt snow in empty Gatorade bottles to make drinking water.
"We really couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel, we didn't know how many days we would be out there," said assistant coach Corinne Jones. "We thought it could have lasted until Thursday."
Jones was among 15 players and five coaches who found themselves thrust into the unexpected team-building exercise just after midnight on Tuesday morning while driving back to the school's campus in Lewiston, New York, from a road game in Pittsburgh.
"It definitely showed that we definitely need each other, on and off the court," Sylvia Maxwell, the team's captain, said about the experience. "It showed us that we can get through anything together."
The ordeal started on Monday evening when the Purple Eagles lost to the University of Pittsburgh Panthers and departed for home at around 10 p.m. for what is normally a four-hour drive.
But with only a few miles to go, the bus ground to a halt on the New York State Thruway south of Buffalo along with dozens of other vehicles, as an intense localized storm inundated the area with massive piles of snow.
While power and heat were never a problem, food and drink were in short supply, with six bottles of water in stock for the 28 people on board, including a baby and a 3-year-old.
"Coach Faustin came to us and was like 'OK everybody they might not come for a whole other day, and we need to salvage our food, so only eat when you're hungry," Maxwell said. "That's when it hit me that this is really scary right now," she said.
Still, the players kept up their spirits by chronicling their situation on social media. Hours of movies and singalongs helped filled the hours.
Relief finally arrived at around 11 p.m. Tuesday when rescue teams brought soda, popcorn, crackers and other provisions to the hungry team. At around 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday, snowplows finally cleared a path.
Reporting by Sebastien Malo in New York; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Eric Walsh