Winter Weather

Kevin Crawford of with Florence Public Works tries to cut part of a tree limb that fell near the corner of Dabney and King Streets in Florence Thursday morning.

FLORENCE, S.C. -- Many Pee Dee residents woke up without electricity Thursday morning, many of them still without electricity from Wednesday night, in the wake of an ice storm that pummeled the area Wednesday through into early Thursday morning.

In Florence County 31,275 Duke Energy and 8,063 Santee Electric Cooperative customers were without power as of 6:15 a.m., according to their outage Web sites.

Florence County emergency management officials opened two warming shelters -- Lake City and South Florence High Schools -- and a special needs shelter at Carolinas Hospital as the storm rolled through.

The Lake City shelter, which had power through most of the storm, lost power about 3 a.m. Thursday, Dusty Owens, Florence County Emergency Management Division director, said.

County officials Thursday morning were working with utility officials to make restoration of power to the shelter a priority, Owens said.

Until then firefighters have moved in with light stands and a generator to light the shelter for those inside.

The special needs shelter is designated for people with very specific medical issues, Owens said. A DHEC nurse is serving as a gate keeper at the shelter there, he said.

In Marion County, 11,838 Duke Energy customers were without power and 8,343 customers in Dillon County.

Santee Electric Cooperative had 11,486 Williamsburg County customers in the dark while Duke Energy had 5,561 customers out.

In Georgetown County, Santee had 11,193 customers out and another 7,299 out in Clarendon County.

SCDOT road crews in Dillon, Marlboro, Darlington and part of Florence Counties are still out plowing snow, Treasure Scarborough, assistance district maintenance engineer, said.

In all counties in SCDOT Region 5 -- the Pee Dee and Grand Strand -- crews are actively out removing tree limbs and trees from roads.

Marion and Williamsburg Counties were especially hard hit with trees and debris, he said.

In Latta many old oak trees along the main streets have had limbs break and fall into the streets, he said.

Scarborough said for the most of part what's fallen into roads is limbs and tree tops, though he said some entire trees have fallen into and across roads as well.

"Our first priority is to open the roads," Scarborough said. "The follow up will be to remove the debris from the rights of way."

Toward those ends, Scarborough said much of the debris will just be pushed off the road and to the side of the road initially before crews return to either pick it up or otherwise remove it from the right of way by pushing it off into nearby woods.

"I couldn't even take a guess," about the volume of debris already cleared from roads, Scarborough said.

Ultimately SCDOT officials want to work with county solid waste authorities to accommodate debris disposal, he said.

If the volume exceeds disposal capacity then SCDOT officials will react as they do during hurricanes and work on establishing central locations where the debris can be collected and stored to either be mulched or recycled.

"Cold, wet, rainy, messy, froze and hard to drive," Capt. Andy Locklair, Darlington County Sheriff's Office, said of Darlington County Thursday morning as he drove in to work at the county's emergency operations center.

Locklair said the county has scattered power outages and trees and other debris on some roads throughout the county.

At 9:43 a.m. sleet continued to fall in Darlington County and the temperature stood at 31 degrees, Locklair said.

"Some primary roads are in somewhat better shape, when I saw better shape I mean not completely covered with ice," Locklair said. Secondary roads throughout Darlington County remained in rough condition, Locklair said.

"Everybody seems to have been prepared for this," Locklair said.

Marion County Administrator Tim Harper said 93 percent of Marion County is currently without power. Harper said Marion County officials would make a decision Thursday afternoon about Friday's office being either open or closed.

Dillon County School District 3 Superintendent John Kirby said his schools along with neighboring Dillon District 4 Schools would be closed Friday.

“We have no electricity and it probably won’t be up until Sunday or Monday,” Kirby said.

With daylight Owens said Florence County emergency management officials would head out into the county to start assessing the storm's toll with two thoughts in mind -- the value of structural damage to property and the cost of overall debris cleanup.

"There’s a lot of debris down in the roadways and yards. We know there's a lot, just don't know how much," Owens said.

Florence County damage assessment teams will have 800 square miles to work their way through and it may take more than a day, Owens said.

Those two figures, he said, will be key in obtaining a more complete federal disaster area declaration beyond what has already been signed off on for the state.

The current declaration allows federal funds for staffing emergency operations to cope with the storm, an extension of that declaration could allow the county to recoup many of the costs of cleaning up after the storm, Owens said.

Southern Florence County -- Pamplico, Johnsonville and Lake City -- along with Timmonsville seemed to get hit worse by the storm than did the Florence area, Owens said.

Scanner traffic Thursday morning was full of tree down, limb down and road blocked reports from across Florence County.

Owens said no Florence County emergency responders have been injured so far and no Florence Count agency equipment involved in crashes so far -- and that was with almost triple the volume of calls Wednesday and almost double the dispatched responses.

An average Wednesday -- from 7 a.m. Wednesday - 5 a.m. Thursday -- involves 838 calls to Florence County's 911 communications center and 335 of those calls involve dispatching responders.

Wednesday into early Thursday this week involved 2,260 calls to the communications center and 784 of those calls involved dispatching responders, Owens said.

The 2,260 figure doesn't include calls that came directly to the Florence County Emergency Operations Center which was has been staffed -- about 11 people a shift -- since the storm started Wednesday, Owens said.

For some of those dispatches emergency responders counted on the county's volunteer firefighters to clear the road of trees and debris to get through, Sam Brockington, Florence County fire and rescue services coordinator, said.

The county's fire departments are, for the most part, working off emergency power and Brockington said he expected it would be "days" before power is fully restored.

Until then, Brockington said firefighters along with other emergency responders out in the field are conducting windshield surveys to assist county emergency management staff with the overall damage assessment.

As dangerous as the storm was as it rolled through, Owens and Locklair both said the cleanup would be equally dangerous if residents aren't careful.

"We have to get through today and tomorrow," Locklair said.

"Do not handle or go near any power lines. Even if they're down they're still electrified," Owens said. "Don't attempt to cut tree debris entangled in power lines."

Chain saws are a common cause of injury during cleanup and somebody will inevitably fall off their roof, Owens said.

Owens also said people should be aware of the hazards of carbon monoxide poisoning is they used gas heaters or had electric generators running and that people should use flashlights rather than candles to light the dark.

Roads surfaces are improving with time but drivers should be very careful with trees blocking roads and ice-laden, low hanging branches hanging in the roadway where normally they'd hang too high to be an issue for traffic.

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