Update: People hunkered down


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

After a night of heavy sleet and snow, people in Pitt and surrounding counties woke to a blanket of wintery weather and dangerous driving conditions. Most folks have stayed at home, helping to minimize problems, officials said.

Several inches of sleet and snow fell in the Greenville area overnight and officials are asking motorists to stay off the roads. Heavy sleet began falling about 6 p.m., coating roads with a layer of ice. Driving was hazardous especially on bridges.

Snow began to fall in the area about midnight and 3-6 inches had fallen by daybreak. The National Weather Service says there is a 40 percent chance snow this afternoon. Conditions will be clearing and Thursday will bring sunshine and highs of 35 degrees.

Area schools, East Carolina University, Pitt Community College, governmental offices and major employers are closed today, and officials are hoping that will help keep motorists from driving so crews can clear the roads. Pitt County Schools will be closed Thursday. Announcements were expected later by ECU, PCC, GUC, Pitt County and the city of Greenville.

Gov. Pat McCrory held a second winter-weather press conference in as many days, saying that the cold weather “will still be with us for the next day or so and conditions will be dangerous.”

McCrory thanked emergency workers, local and state officials, hospitals and utilities for their storm response.

“We are definitely not in the clear yet,” McCrory said. “The best advice for today is stay home if you can. Those roads can be dangerous and we don’t want anyone to put themselves in harm’s way.”

“Unless its absolutely necessary to be out, stay off the roads,” Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry advised. “Most of the state has had some combination of sleet, freezing rain and/or snow and with below freezing temperatures, we’re expecting those icy road conditions to continue throughout today and into Thursday.”

Greenville officials closed 20 streets due to hazardous conditions on Wednesday morning. No serious wrecks had been reported locally, but the State Highway Patrol reported two weather-related fatalities in Surry County occurred Tuesday.

“The ice we saw overnight, combined with snow, caused for very slippery conditions,” police spokeswoman Kristen Hunter said Wednesday morning. “Many of the main roads are still covered in snow. We are urging people to stay off the roads unless it’s an absolute emergency. we are maintaining constant contact with public works to address roads that may need attention.”

Greenville Police Chief Hassan Aden urged the public to stay off the roads due to hazardous conditions.

“What’s more dangerous is the layer of ice underneath the snow,” Aden said. “That has several implications, mostly dealing with plowing. If we plow the top snow, the roads may look clear, but that may be potentially more dangerous because of the visible ice and the invisible black ice.”

Aden said he appreciates the community’s efforts thus far.

“I’d like to thank our community for heeding the advice and remaining off the streets at night and early this morning,” Aden said. “I urge you to continue to stay off the roads and that will help us get the roads treated and cleared.”

Aden said GPD had “no issues getting to emergency situations” since the adverse weather conditions set in.

“Our officers got out and got to the scenes safely and quickly,” he said.

Greenville Public Information Officer Steve Hawley said city and NCDOT crews are working to clear as many roads as possible, but as they scrape away snow, there is still a thick layer of ice. Priorities continue to be around the hospital, fire stations and police stations.

Public Works Director Kevin Mulligan said city crews were clearing Arlington, Hooker, Howell and other city roads Wednesday afternoon.

“Our goal is to get as many roads open as possible,” Mulligan said. “From a response perspective, our primary focus must be emergency response — access to the hopsital, police and fire services. We have street maintenance crews coordinating efforts on city roads whiloe building and grounds (crews) addresses police and fire facilities.”

Mulligan said snow and ice removal has been slowed by low temperatures and ice accumulation, with sleet falling from about 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday night, creating “a significant base layer of ice.” While some portions of the roads are clear, with asphalt visible, Mulligan said it’s likely that any snow melt that occurred will convert to ice when Wednesday’s temperatures drop into single digits.

“Please, if you can, stay home and if you must travel, proceed with caution,” Mulligan said. “Stopping distances will be greatly increased by these conditions.”

Mulligan said city crews began plowing when the sun came up Wednesday and there was an accumulation of more than 2 inches. But Mulligan said things were complicated by the fact that neither the city nor NCDOT can plow snow and leave ice behind. Mulligan said sun and salt is necessary for ice to melt.

The GREAT bus service and sanitation service in Greenville are cancelled for Thursday. A decision about city offices will be made this afternoon.

Pitt County Emergency Management Director Noel Lee said no major problems have been reported.

“Sleet doesn’t stick like freezing rain,” Lee said.

No reports of snow-related damage have come in to Lee’s office, he said.

Clearing the county’s highways is the day’s main focus.

“DOT has crews in from the western part of the state helping clear the roads,” he said. “And thank goodness we have power.”

Lee said he is concerned about how the county’s roads will be tonight. He anticipates patches of ice will remain, especially on the secondary roads, so he urged people to stay home if they can.

The Pitt County transfer station and collection sites are closed, according to County Public Information Director Kiara Jones.

“Although the snow has stopped, still limit travel because you don’t know about the ice beneath the snow,” Jones said. “Shelter in place.”

Police reported no major weather-related incidents but said some fender-benders have occurred.

“Traffic has picked up slightly on the roads this morning as people are slowly making their way to work,” Hunter said, “but with temperatures continue to remain low, we are anticipating ice could be a problem over the next few days. We can’t stress enough that drivers stay off the roads. If they must go somewhere, we ask them to use extreme caution.”

People in the areas of Bell Arthur and Fountain were staying home, two local fire chiefs reported.

Bell Arthur Fire Department Chief Virgil O’Neal estimated about 4 inches of snow and ice fell in his community. He left home early this morning to check on the area and found a car that had slid in the ditch near the intersection of Ballards Crossroads and Askew Road. No one was inside and the State Highway Patrol had already checked on the vehicle.

“The roads are covered but we wouldn’t have trouble getting out if we had to,” O’Neal said of the department. “We’d just have to drive slow.”

Michael Dickens, Fountain Fire Department chief, said there was no traffic on Bell Road, the highway outside his house.

“People are hunkering down,” he said.

Although few children live in his area, he said his friends were posting plenty of photos on social media sites of their kids enjoying the snow.

Greenville Utilities has reported no outages or serious weather-related problems. Since 11 p.m. Tuesday the utility has received one call involving a frozen gas regulator and calls to replace two electrical transformers, one on Statonsburg Road and one on Chestnut Street, due to age and cold temperatures. Those issues have been addressed and three customers were affected. Crews are on duty and ready to respond around the clock, the utility reported.

In the event of a power outage

The following information is from Greenville utilities:

If your power goes out, check to see if the outage includes other houses in your neighborhood. If it hasn’t, check your fuse box and circuit breaker panel to see if you can locate the problem. If the neighboring houses are dark too, look to see if there are any trees or branches in the lines, and if there are downed wires, flashes of light or any other sign of trouble.

Don’t touch or attempt to move an electric lines or trees or any other obstacles in contact with electric lines. Stay well away from dangerous areas. If a wire falls on your car while you’re in it, stay in the car until the wire is removed.

Sometimes tree limbs fall on the wires coming from the pole to your house with such force that the wiring and meter base are pulled from the house. In this case, you must call an electrician to make repairs before GUC can restore your power.

Be assured that our power restoration plan follows industry-proven best practices for systematically restoring power to the greatest number of customers in the quickest amount of time, as safely and efficiently as possible.

Transmission lines, substations and primary lines (serving hundreds of people) are repaired first, followed by secondary lines serving only a few. And, of course, life threatening situations, the hospital and other facilities that are essential to public health and safety are a priority.