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Weather: Ice storm knocks out power and briefly closes bridges

By From Staff Reports
Coastal Observer

The bridges over the Waccamaw and Pee Dee Rivers were closed early Wednesday morning due to ice, following a single-vehicle accident. Emergency medical workers were unable to reach the driver, but no injuries were reported.

The incident, around 4 a.m., was the first sign that the winter storm that swept through the area this week was going to be different. As rain fell through the morning, ice accumulated on trees and power lines. By midday, branches and whole trees were toppling. Santee Cooper reported over 1,700 area customers without power during the day.

Emergency management officials issued repeated statements during the storm in late January that the bridges would not be closed. They repeated them as this week’s storm approached. But the mixture of heavy rain and freezing temperatures this week left a coating of ice over exposed surfaces.

“There’s a difference in the level of bridge closing between the Emergency Management division and law enforcement and us,” said Midway Fire and Rescue Chief Doug Eggiman.

The bridges don’t close in anticipation of a storm, including hurricanes. But emergency services can close them for specific incidents, and Wednesday morning they stayed closed until DOT could make them passable, Eggiman said.

“I’ll bet the bridge wasn’t closed an hour,” he said. That was around 4 to 5 a.m. The northbound lane reopened after trucks laid down salt. The crews got a refill and salted the southbound lane.

Midway got word from law enforcement that the Waccamaw River bridge, where the accident occurred, wasn’t safe. “They gave us a heads-up before we got to the accident that it would not be wise to take our fire trucks on the bridge,” Eggiman said.

Crews could have walked to the scene, but he said the conditions would have put them at risk. “Unfortunately, if you can’t get to him, you can’t get to him,” Eggiman said.

That’s the reason people should heed warnings about storms, both Arctic and tropical, he said.

Midway crews took one person to the hospital early Wednesday morning after she slipped on the ice outside her home. Reports began to come in of ice-laden trees and limbs falling across power lines.

Schools were closed Wednesday and Thursday. The public schools were already trying to make up for three days lost to last month’s ice storm.

“The forecast was more accurate this time,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said. The closing decisions are made in consultation with local and state emergency and public works staff. “The upper part of the county is always significantly different from here” on Waccamaw Neck, he added.

This week’s mix of rain and freezing temperatures was worse than last month’s freezing rain and sleet, Pawleys Island Police Chief Mike Fanning said. “It’s much worse than last time.”

The bridges on the two causeways to the island had a film of ice. DOT salted them Wednesday morning and police put out traffic cones to warn drivers. Police also pulled a tree limb out of Atlantic Avenue at Third Street.

“We’re definitely ready for it to be done,” Fanning said.

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