After the Storm
Published 9:31 am Tuesday, January 26, 2016
While the Roanoke-Chowan region dodged a “weather bullet” – one that actually took aim at areas to our north and west (up to 40 inches of snow in West Virginia and 30-plus in the nation’s capital) – that did not prevent a rash of motor vehicle accidents over the weekend.
With local roads looking more like an ice rink thanks to 48 hours of a mixture of rain, sleet and snow (with some freezing rain), R-C area law enforcement and emergency responders were busy from Friday through Sunday.
“We answered numerous calls from motorists whose vehicles had lost control on the slippery roads and they wound-up in the ditch,” said First Sgt. Mike Warren of the North Carolina Highway Patrol’s Troop A, District 2 office in Ahoskie.
From Thursday night through Sunday night, Warren said his office responded to a total of 35 accidents (those requiring paperwork to be filled out) in the three-county district: 14 in Hertford County; 11 in Bertie and 10 in Gates.
“We responded to other calls that did not require paperwork; for example a vehicle that had slipped off the road without causing property damage, and others where a vehicle had been pulled out of a ditch prior to our arrival…there were a lot of those types of incidents,” Warren noted.
The only serious accident occurred Saturday morning near Askewville. Warren said that wreck was not weather related as the vehicle ran off the road where it struck a mailbox and then a tree. He said the driver was transported to Vidant Bertie in Windsor and then taken to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville due to the extent of her injuries.
Another wreck on Friday was weather related as a vehicle slid off the road in the Murfreesboro area and collided with an electrical power pole. That prompted a widespread power outage, which lasted nearly three hours.
“As part of a statewide plan to deal with this weather event, we received a directive from Raleigh last Wednesday to be prepared,” Warren stated. “We adjusted our schedules in order to have a minimum of two troopers on duty in order to offer around the clock coverage on the roads here in our three counties.
“We were on the roads checking for accidents or stranded motorists. I was very proud of my folks as they were able to safely navigate those slippery roads and provide aid to the motorists in need,” Warren added.
The western fringes of the Roanoke-Chowan area were the hardest hit with snow and ice. Those elements were responsible for a major accident Friday afternoon on I-95 South at the 176 mile marker in Northampton County. There, Gaston Fire and Rescue Chief Ed Porter Jr. reported a two vehicle accident with entrapment.
Porter said that upon arrival, emergency responders found a small SUV had collided with a tractor trailer. Heavy damage was noted to the driver’s side of the SUV. The driver was found trapped inside of the vehicle.
Both southbound lanes of the interstate were closed while Gaston Fire & Rescue worked to free the entrapped driver, who was transported to Halifax Regional Medical Center in stable condition.
Ronnie Storey, Northampton County Emergency Management Coordinator, said the roads there are now mostly clear. Spots on some back roads that are in the shade most of the day may have some black ice, but the major roadways are now clear.
He said the western end of the county, especially the northwest portion, Pleasant Hill to the lake, still has some icy patches on the back roads, but the main roadways are clear.
He said the Emergency Management crews had a few minor accidents when the snow first started sticking Friday afternoon.
Saturday was calm, with people staying off the road.
Saturday night got busy again as the roads started freezing as the temperature dropped.
Overall, Storey said he was very pleased because there were no major injuries in Northampton County.
He said the department only had one major wreck, when a tractor-trailer rig struck a car on I-95. The fuel tank ruptured, spewing gasoline onto the road. At that point it became a hazmat response and DOT responded to get sand onto the gasoline. But no one was seriously injured.
“We had fewer calls than I expected,” said Storey.
According to a spokesperson for the Highway Patrol office in Raleigh, there were 25 accidents in Northampton County from Friday morning through Monday morning.
As expected, ice-covered electrical lines along with the high winds associated with the powerful storm led to power outages.
By early Saturday afternoon, more than 50,000 Dominion Virginia Power/Dominion North Carolina Power customers experienced an outage as result of the winter storm. That number was reduced to a shade over 2,000 by Sunday afternoon and to only 437 by Monday morning.
Dominion prepared for the storm by having 4,000 personnel and 650 bucket trucks in place. Approximately 500 of those personnel came from non-impacted neighboring utilities from six states: Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Arkansas.
Meanwhile, Roanoke Electric Cooperative members were also impacted by the storm. A spokesperson for REC said the number of electrical outages peaked at around 1,800 Friday night into Saturday. Those outages were reported in each of the seven counties served by REC (Bertie, Chowan, Gates, Halifax, Hertford, Northampton and Perquimans).
Across North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory praised emergency responders as well as transportation and utility crews who worked so hard throughout this storm.
“We know people are anxious to resume their routines, but there are still slick spots out there; we want people to be careful and safe,” the Governor said on Monday.
“My deepest gratitude goes to our first responders, National Guard members, utility workers, North Carolina Emergency Management and DOT workers for their selfless and dedicated work to keep their fellow citizens safe,” McCrory said.
One of those emergency responders was assaulted during the story.
Early Saturday morning, State Trooper R.P. Charubini, while on patrol in China Grove, was injured by two individuals driving all-terrain vehicles on a highway. When the trooper tried to warn the four wheeler operators to get off the road, they charged the officer, injuring him. The trooper has been treated for his non-life threatening injuries. The North Carolina Troopers Association is offering a $1,000 cash reward for information leading directly to the capture and arrest of the two suspects. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Highway Patrol at 800-233-3151.
“This attitude and behavior towards any of our law enforcement officers or first responders is abysmal and inexcusable,” said Governor McCrory. “They left their families at home and in many cases put themselves in harm’s way so that we could be safe. And they deserve our respect and appreciation.”
Statewide, the Highway Patrol responded to more than 4,600 calls for assistance and investigated more than 2,400 crashes since the storm began. Six people have died since Wednesday when the winter weather began; all were the result of vehicle crashes.
Power outages continue to decline. By Monday morning, 51,000 homes still had no power with most of those in Wake, Johnston and Harnett counties. During the course of the storm, more than 472,000 lost power statewide
Since the storm began, NCDOT crews placed nearly 2.2 million gallons of salt brine in an effort to help prevent ice from bonding to the roadway. They also have used more than 52,000 tons of salt and more than 15,000 tons of salt-sand mixture to treat roads covered with snow and ice.