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On thin ice: Touted storm brings coastal living to a standstill

By From staff reports
Coastal Observer

Alex Baumert left her apartment at dawn and headed to North Litchfield. She’s from Indiana, but came to the area after college because this is where her family vacations.

“I think I brought it with me,” she said as she surveyed the snow on the beach. She snapped pictures to send to her family.

Baumert was one of the few people on the road Wednesday morning following an ice and snow storm that caused Gov. Nikki Haley to declare a state of emergency.

Midway Fire and Rescue and Santee Cooper had additional staff on hand to deal with any potential emergencies caused by limbs breaking under the weight of ice and taking down power lines.

Chief Doug Eggiman of Midway Fire and Rescue said Georgetown County was lucky that it did not receive the amount of freezing rain in the forecast. “That would have been the most in my 28 years here,” he said.

Eggiman said people took the warnings about the storm seriously. Midway did not respond to a single traffic accident on Tuesday night, he said. “There was not a lot of traffic on the roads,” he said. “That made our job a lot easier.”

Its first call to a downed power line came Wednesday morning in the Litchfield Country Club area.

Pawleys Island Police were prepared to close the causeways to the island, but the need never arose, Chief Mike Fanning said.

“DOT came through and sanded them Tuesday around 4,” he said. “DOT came through for us.”

Police spent a quiet night. The traffic cameras installed last year showed that the first vehicle didn’t come onto the island until 6 a.m. Wednesday, Fanning said.

“We didn’t do much out of the ordinary,” he said.

Fanning did take time to send a Twitter message to Jim Cantore, the reporter for the Weather Channel, who was in Charleston, inviting him to ride out the storm at Pawleys Island. Cantore politely declined.

Eggiman recalled the last snow storm to hit the area. “There wasn’t quite as much advance notice,” he said, “and we ran a dozen calls in 45 minutes. Almost all of them were traffic accidents.”

Midway brought in personnel to staff an extra ambulance and fire crew. “We recognize that our response will be delayed,” Eggiman said. “We have to be extra careful and take it slow driving a 40,000-pound firetruck. It won’t do anybody any good if it doesn’t make it to the scene.”

With one more cold night tonight before a weekend thaw, Eggiman cautioned people about using kerosene heaters. “People try for a little extra heat and don’t take precautions,” he said. “They are not well ventilated, and we end up running fires or carbon monoxide related emergencies. We are still concerned about power outages and people using candles. I’ve seen and heard some pretty inventive arrangements that don’t work out as planned.”

He said the thaw could also produce bursting pipes in homes. Fire crews answered 11 such calls last weekend.

Georgetown County School Superintendent Randy Dozier toured the roads Wednesday morning as he tried to decide whether students and staff would have a third day off. The Waccamaw River bridge still had ice, and he was concerned that it would freeze overnight.

“I can never win these,” he said of the decision to close schools. “I don’t want to put anybody at risk.”

The decision to close schools on Tuesday was made because the Monday forecast called for freezing rain to begin around 5 the next morning. Dozier said he had planned on an early closing up to that point.

“It’s the city and the county, Highway Patrol, there’s a lot of people that sit in on those meetings,” he said.

After watching officials in Atlanta explain why children had to spend the night at school, Dozier said he didn’t regret his decision.

“We can make up the time, but we can’t make up for somebody being hurt,” he said.

Feb. 18 will now be a school day instead of part of the President’s Day weekend. Two half days at the end of the school year will become full days, Dozier said.

Santee Cooper’s call center will be open until the wintry weather passes and all power is restored. Work crews will rotate continuously in order to respond to power outages. “The ice and the freezing rain cause more problems with our power lines, so we kept that in mind and we staffed accordingly,” Santee Cooper public relations specialist Susan Mungo said. “So we feel like we are ready in the event of power outages and we are staffed and ready to go and get power restored as quickly as possible.”

Crews are preparing now for upcoming shifts and storm-related repairs, if needed. We also have contract repair and tree crews coming in from Florida and Louisiana to help in storm repairs. Crews will address any needed repairs as soon as it is safe to send them out.

Mungo advised Santee Cooper customers to reduce electricity use, especially during peak use hours between 6 and 9 a.m. and 5 and 8 p.m.

Report power outages to Santee Cooper by calling 1-888-769-7688, or going online at santeecooper.com. There you will also find a link to chat with representatives.

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