Dozens of people phoned the governor's Harrisburg mansion on Wednesday night.

They weren't calling to wish Ed Rendell happy Valentine's Day. More like seething hate-o-grams.

That's how Rendell learned of a 50-mile backup on an icy stretch of Interstate 78 that ultimately stranded hundreds of motorists for hours and hours - some stuck for more than 24 hours.

Rendell said he was oblivious to the fiasco until about 8 p.m. when a state trooper at the Governor's Residence called to report that the general phone line there was ringing off the hook with more than 30 calls from apoplectic motorists and their families.

At the time, Rendell was snug-as-a-bug in his Philadelphia home listening to the Penn State-Ohio State basketball game. By then, motorists had been frozen in their tracks for six hours without food, water or toilet.

Yesterday, Rendell called for an investigation into what he deemed as the state's "totally unacceptable" response to the crisis and the "total breakdown of communications" among state agencies.

"How could it happen that I wasn't notified until five of 8 p.m. and notified by a state trooper at the residence, not by anybody in the normal chain of command?" Rendell questioned.

He added, "I haven't gotten an acceptable answer as of now and that ticks the heck out of me."

Rendell apologized to motorists, including a Rhode Island woman who was reduced to tears while trapped in her car with her 5-year-old son who was suffering a 103-degree fever from strep throat.

"I'm not blaming anybody but myself," Rendell said. "I wish I had been notified earlier, but I probably made a bad assumption that everything was under control."

Read: Rendell was really angry and it's a good bet that he gave the business to somebody, somewhere in state government.

"There were significant mistakes in judgment made," Rendell said. "These people work for me . . . and if they screwed up, and I believe they did . . . it's my fault."

The problem began at about 2 p.m. Wednesday after two tractor trailers collided on an icy, hilly section of I-78, an east-west highway that links central Pennsylvania with New York City.

With cars at a standstill, PennDOT crews couldn't stay ahead of a steady shower of ice and snow. State authorities failed to close on-ramps so more and more unsuspecting motorists got trapped in the backup. Then came another accident, state officials said.

Rendell said that soon after 8 p.m. he activated the National Guard, which used Humvees to ferry 600 blankets, 7,500 water bottles, and 4,000 ready-to-eat military meals - in what was quite possibly the longest fast-food drive-thru wait in history.

The Guard also took fuel to some motorists and shuttled others to shelter, though most did not want to leave their cars, Rendell said.

The last of the stranded motorists were sprung free yesterday and portions of Interstates 78, 80 and 81 remained closed so road crews could hammer away at a 3-inch crust of ice.

The investigation will be conducted by Rendell's secretary of administration, Joseph S. Martz, and Greg Fajt, the governor's special adviser. In addition, Rendell hired James Lee Witt, former director of Federal Emergency Management Agency under the Clinton administration, to conduct an independent review. *