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Record snowfall paralyzes I-64; no deaths but many wrecks reported

Record snowfall paralyzes I-64; no deaths but many wrecks reported
Record snowfall paralyzes I-64; no deaths but many wrecks reported
House painter Mike Chester drove Gene Higginbotham's van slowly but surely down Maple Street in Corydon after it became covered with snow and ice last Wednesday afternoon.

The weather outside was frightful.
Stranded motorists were a common site by noon last Wednesday as forecasters warned that snow accumulations could reach a foot in the Louisville metro area, but Mother Nature was just warming up, or cooling down.
An ominous weather forecast said north of the Ohio River could expect an additional nine to 12 inches overnight, and some areas in Indiana could expect an additional 20 by daybreak Thursday.
There was no precipitation for several hours Wednesday evening, but it was only a calm before the second snowstorm.
Between Wednesday and Thursday mornings, Louisville got rain, freezing rain and snow. Areas further north and west were pelted by consistent, heavy snowfall.
After the storm system had passed, Louisville recorded nine inches, New Albany had 14, and Evansville 19 (almost five inches more than its annual total).
But Harrison County had depths from 15 to 20 inches, while western Floyd County got 11 to 14 inches. Washington County was one of the worst hit, with accumulation topping 30 inches. Some other Southern Indiana areas had 32 inches.
Crawford County Sheriff Richard Scott said between 23 and 28 inches fell in the northern regions of the county, while residents in the Leavenworth area reported about 22 inches.
Crawford and Harrison were among 49 Indiana counties to declare a state of emergency, closing the roads to only official vehicles.
Other meteorological factors complicated matters.
Interstate 64 from the Leaven-worth/Marengo Exit in Crawford County to the Corydon/Palmyra Exit in Harrison County was closed late Wednesday because of heavy winds that were producing snow drifts of several feet. The road was reopened early Thursday.
Extreme low temperatures and overcast skies sustained the snow until Friday when the sun caused some melting. Temperatures didn’t exceed freezing until Monday. The result has been refreezes on roads at night, snowbanks that are too heavy to be plowed and ground too solid for digging.
Some funeral homes even had to reschedule burials.
Meteorologists have warned that local flooding could occur as temperatures rise and a chance of rain persists through the weekend.
There were 72 recorded accidents from Wednesday through Monday, said Brad Shephard, public information officer for the Harrison County Sheriff’s Dept.
Those accidents included 61 property damage and 11 injury accidents. There were also about 50 motorist assist or stranded motorist calls, including cars that were stuck or had broken down.
‘When they declared a state of emergency for Harrison County there were some stragglers, and that’s to be expected, especially with a holiday,’ Shephard said.
Charlie’s 24-Hour Towing in Corydon (see photos on front page) made 200 runs between Wednesday and yesterday.
Wal-Mart Supercenter employees are used to a hoarding rush before a winter storm, but when the storm is said to be the biggest in years, it’s difficult to know what to expect.
Wal-Mart was temporarily without milk. Pepsi Cola took its trucks off the road, and shoppers took the entire stock off the shelves. Snow shovels were gone by lunchtime Wednesday.
Bargain brands in a wide variety of staples sold out, forcing shoppers to purchase premium brands instead. Smaller sizes sold out, forcing shoppers to purchase larger quantities. And trucks loaded with merchandise fell behind schedule as travel conditions deteriorated.
‘We were surprised at our sales,’ said co-manager Pat Anson, who worked 36 hours with only a three-hour nap at a nearby hotel. Anson said the store stopped counting call-ins at 83. Some sales associates were still snowbound on Monday, she said.
When the interstate closed, Wal-Mart’s parking lot became packed with semi-tractor trailers. ‘They don’t want to drive either, and we aren’t about to tell them they can’t stop,’ Anson said. One trucker from Pennsylvania estimated 100 rigs stopped there Wednesday night.
Wal-Marts in Scottsburg and Columbus closed temporarily while Corydon weathered the storm. ‘We had a lot of associates that really pitched in and took charge, and it really saved us,’ Anson said.
The understaffed store was forced to close the doors on its general merchandise side, and lines stretched from Register 15 to the cosmetics department, or more than half the length of the checkout area.
‘We were grateful to the public for their patience,’ Anson said, noting that she didn’t receive one complaint concerning the long wait.
The snow wasn’t just deep, it was heavy.
Shephard and the Emergency Management Agency reported several buildings damaged by the weight of the snow. They included a mobile home roof collapse in Elizabeth, roof damage at a Corydon business, and damage to a commercial out-building in Palmyra.
Roofs collapsed on several chicken houses in Harrison and Crawford counties.
‘We had those bad storms this spring, and they knocked a lot of those trees down that were probably borderline to start with, and some of the homes had new roofs on them,’ said Greg Reas, Harrison County EMA director, speculating about the relatively light structural damage.
Treacherous road conditions hampered emergency vehicles.
Ambulances got stuck seven times in Harrison County, said Gary Kleeman, EMS director at Harrison County Hospital. One ambulance was abandoned overnight after sliding off a driveway.
Kleeman reminded parents to keep children away from frozen lakes, ponds and streams because the ice isn’t thick enough to be safe.
The Palmyra Volunteer Fire Dept. assisted a woman and newborn child in the Fredericksburg area on Thursday. The woman thought she was having a miscarriage when she instead gave birth to the premature infant.
Things ran fairly smoothly for the Harrison Township Volunteer Fire Dept.
‘We’ve been fortunate. The only thing we’ve had is a lot of medical assist runs. We’ve had no fires and no roof collapses that I’ve heard of in Harrison Township. We’ve been mainly using our brush trucks, which are four-wheel drive,’ said Fire Chief Tim Shewmaker.
FEMA hopes to enlist the services of a few responsible four-wheel-drive vehicle owners who would be interested in moving snow for the elderly or providing other assistance during severe winter storms. FEMA can be contacted at 738-8949.
The task of making all but state roads reasonably accessible fell to the Harrison County Highway Dept.
‘Employees were going to have Thursday and Friday off. They did work both of those days. We did allow the employees time off on Saturday because of Christmas day. They came back to work on Sunday,’ said Harrison County Engineer Darin Duncan.
‘It has been a monumental task getting to more than 850 miles of roadway with the equipment we have. All roads should be at least partially open as of Thursday or Friday, and I know that a lot of the efforts yesterday and even continuing into tomorrow are on expanding coverage,’ Duncan said Monday.
Despite roads encrusted with snow and ice, the white Christmas was also a warm Christmas for most.
Power outages were minimal. An outage southwest of Marengo Thursday led to the establishment of a temporary shelter at Marengo Elementary School. Power was reconnected before the shelter was used.
‘Anywhere from 40 to 100 people were out at various times,’ PSI Cinergy spokesperson Barbara Middleton said. Those scattered outages were caused by snow pulling down lines or toppling trees into lines.
FEMA and Reas are now trying to determine the cost of Harrison County’s first big snowfall. Those numbers will be submitted with those of other counties throughout Indiana in the hope of recouping some expenses through federal aid.
Cost is no object when the snow is falling.
‘When you get into a situation like this … you really can’t worry too much about the cost because you just have to get it done. You try to get it done as reasonable as possible,’ said Corydon Town Council President Fred Cammack.
‘I think we got everything done in pretty good order. I attribute that to good people, but good people can’t do the work if they don’t have good equipment,’ he said, adding that Corydon has both.
How often do snowfalls like these come around?
The Louisville Metro area had a record 21 inches in February 1998. Louisville media reported 18 inches of snow in January 1994, which eclipsed the former record of 15 inches set in the infamous blizzard of January 1978.