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Ice on a tree adds a touch of beauty to the overlook of the Ohio River at Leavenworth as a barge pushes downriver Saturday afternoon. (Photos by staff)

Winter storm paralyzes S. Indiana

Schools close for week, more than 125 stay at Crawford shelter as ice freezes power

February 04, 2009
A two-day snow and ice storm last Tuesday and Wednesday across Southern Indiana set the scene for power outages to thousands of homes and closed businesses, schools, government offices and roads.

A steady, freezing rain that began Tuesday morning blanketed trees, power lines and roads throughout the day and continued most of the evening. Early Wednesday, two to four inches of snow and sleet added insult to injury as it provided a cover, and additional weight, to trees and power lines already burdened by the heavy ice.

Residents all over Crawford County began losing power late Tuesday and early Wednesday and many became stranded in their homes due to downed trees and power lines on area roads.

Patricia Wilhite, 69, and Linda Mason, 63, both of Milltown, show their exhaustion Thurs-day evening at the emergency shelter at Hillview Christian Church west of Marengo.
On Wednesday the county commissioners, acting on recommendations from Emergency Management Agency Director Kent Barrow, declared a state of emergency regarding travel. Only emergency vehicles and people who were required to report to work were to be on the roads, while all others were strongly urged to stay off the roadways.

Early Wednesday, county officials set up a shelter at Hillview Christian Church west of Marengo, and just a few hours later, people began showing up, hoping for a warm place to stay until power could be restored to their homes.

"The shelter opened at 2 a.m. on Wednesday," Sam Bowles, assistant minister at Hillview, said. "Three people came at 6 a.m., and there were 70 here by noon."

On Wednesday night, with 85 to 90 percent of the county without power, 150 people took advantage of the shelter. The Red Cross provided cots and blankets, and the Salvation Army provided funds for food. About 20 members of the church volunteered at the shelter and helped prepare food. More than 1,000 meals were served while the shelter was open.

"The president of JayC called to donate 17 cases of food," Bowles said. "They donated $50 for food before that. So, they've been extremely generous."

Residents of the English Elderly Housing, Oak Grove Apartments at Marengo and Milltown Elderly Housing were taken to the shelter on Wednesday by Indiana conservation officers, the Crawford County Sheriff's Department, Milltown Chief Marshal Ray Saylor and Barrow, all of whom had four-wheel-drive vehicles. A bus belonging to the Marengo Christian Church, along with other vehicles, was used to return the residents to their homes on Thursday. About 15 people remained at the shelter Thursday night.

Hotels and motels in the area were completely booked as people took their families away from powerless, cold homes to any place they could find that had heat and water.

"We could have sold 500 rooms," Linda McKim-Powers, manager of the Hampton Inn in Corydon, said, "but we only have 68 rooms here and had to turn people away. It was really sad, but we just couldn't help everyone who needed it. But there has been a great spirit of giving and helping. One lady, who had won an overnight stay here, came in and told me to give it to someone who really needed it. It makes you feel good to know that there's good people like that."

The storm claimed three lives in Southern Indiana. A Marengo resident, Suzanne M. Mosson, 36, was killed last Tuesday afternoon when her vehicle spun into the path of another vehicle on snow-covered S.R. 64 between Milltown and Marengo, near Hogtown Road. A Daviess County man and a man from Jackson County both died of heart failure while shoveling snow.

A Crawford County man was slightly injured when a large slab of ice from a tractor-trailer landed on his truck in Dubois County.

Adam Sheckells, of Shafer Ridge Road near Milltown, was driving south on U.S. 231 south of Huntingburg when a slab of ice the size of a door and two inches thick flew off the top of an oncoming tractor-trailer and landed on his windshield. The heavy ice knocked out the window, spraying ice into the cab of the truck.

"You didn't have anywhere to go," Sheckells said.

Sheckells suffered minor cuts on his hands and face. Three others in the truck, Sheckells' son, 4-year-old Aidan; his father, Mike Sheckells; and Jamie Sheckells, a brother, were not injured. Besides the windshield, the ice also damaged the truck's grill and headlights.

There were a few slide-offs in the county due to icy roads, but most people left their vehicles parked. All of the volunteer fire departments in the county assisted residents and other emergency responders wherever they were needed.

"Some of our guys used their personal vehicles, four-wheel drives, to deliver oxygen to people who needed it," Mike Benham, assistant fire chief at English said on Monday. "There were a lot of trees down, and oxygen supply people just couldn't get through. We also had to assist the ambulances some. We had a lot of the same problems in September (after the wind storm), but this time the ice and cold made everything more difficult. It was 5 degrees below one night."

Benham went on to say that more generators are needed at some of the firehouses. The firehouse at English has a back-up generator, but the department's substations, at Sulphur, West Fork and Patoka, have no backup systems.

"We could also use a portable unit as well," Benham said. "Leavenworth Fire Department and the ambulance service could also use a backup generator. But those are expensive items. They are on our want list, but not necessarily on our affordable list. And we could really use some backup fuel storage for times like these. When there's no electricity, it's almost impossible to get fuel, even for emergency vehicles and generators. But we're proud of our people here, and those at Milltown, Marengo and Leavenworth fire departments. We all have to pull together when it's like this."

On Wednesday, it was reported that more than 220,000 people in Southern Indiana were without electricity. By Friday, that number had been reduced to about 86,000. On Sunday afternoon, Duke Energy reported that 850 of its customers remained without power, and 500 of those were in Crawford County. Also on Sunday afternoon, the shelter at Hillview Christian Church was closed and the state of emergency, which had been lowered to a travel advisory on Friday, was discontinued.

"By Monday morning, we only had three homes without power," Barrow said. "They were Duke Energy customers. We had a couple of cases of carbon monoxide poisoning due to people running generators improperly, and one person had to be flown to a hospital. Everyone should be aware that generators should only be operated a safe distance from their homes. Carbon monoxide can be deadly."

Crawford County schools, which have been closed since last Tuesday, remain closed at press time on Monday afternoon due to ice remaining on the county's secondary roads. The SchoolMessenger system, which notifies county residents of changes in school schedules by telephone, will be used to announce when classes will resume. As of Sunday, electricity has been restored to all county's school buildings.

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