Crews continue cleanup, outreach after storm’s quick punch

Feb. 13, 2014 @ 06:33 PM

The snowfall and sleet have cleared after this week’s two-part storm, which left a trail of abandoned cars, black ice and slush in its wake.

The sun is making an appearance Friday, along with temperatures in the 40s, according to the National Weather Service in Raleigh, but black ice may still be a concern in the morning.

“(The road conditions are) not as bad as last night as far as overall coverage but still very dangerous, and some may argue more dangerous because people may let their guard down,” said NWS meteorologist Mike Strickler.

Gov. Pat McCrory held a Thursday morning press conference, stating that there was an average 3- to 5-hour traffic delay in the Triangle Wednesday. Three deaths have been caused by the storm so far, two from traffic accidents and one from a falling branch, and none were from Durham or Chapel Hill.

McCrory encouraged people on Thursday to stay home unless they were considered essential work personnel, such as hospital employees, because of unpredictable, “dramatic weather swings.”

“The challenge is not over because this historic storm is continuing,” he said.

The N.C. Department of Transportation reported that most interstates and highways in central North Carolina are clear, but ramps may still be slushy. Crews are expected to clear primary and secondary roads Thursday night into Friday morning. 

More than 200 traffic accidents were reported Wednesday when the storm swept into Durham, with only 31 of those reports involving non-serious injuries, according to the Durham Police Department.

The Durham County Sheriff’s Office said since noon on Wednesday, deputies responded to calls regarding 124 abandoned vehicles, 52 wrecks, 37 stranded motorists and one downed tree.

About two dozen cars were found abandoned along I-40 between the Wake and Orange county lines, according to the N.C. State Highway Patrol.

Officers and deputies are checking abandoned cars for stranded motorists and flagging checked cars with yellow tape. Those cars would not be towed during the winter storm unless they are blocking road crews from conducting cleanup efforts.

Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield said crews from the Public Works Department were "making progress" on plowing city streets.

"Most of the main roads have been taken care of," he said. "They're moving now to the secondary state roads. Marvin (Williams, public works director,) said he would probably be done with those around 2 p.m. (Thursday). We're wanting to be sure they're done before the next round of snow comes through."

Plowing was slow to begin Wednesday because of the traffic jams triggered by the initial snowfall. "But they worked all through the night, and they're catching up," Bonfield said.

Crews began working neighborhoods streets Thursday afternoon, focusing on major collectors rather than subdivision cul-de-sacs, he said.

Durham County Emergency Management Director Jeff Batten said officials hadn't fielded any requests to shelter people, despite the chaos that prevailed on the interstates as the storm hit Wednesday afternoon.

"I think most of the folks were patient and stayed in their vehicles," Batten said. "Once they got traffic moving, they went about their business."

Batten said his own observations were that the area's primary roads were "fairly clear, but the secondary roads out in the county were bad."

Durham's fire departments had to deal with one fire overnight on Wednesday and investigated any reports officials fielded on Thursday about power lines arcing or burning.

The numerous auto accidents kept them busy, but fortunately they faced nothing major with injuries or fatalities, fatalities," Batten said.

As of 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Duke Energy’s North Carolina and South Carolina customers had reported a total of 14,966 outages. Twenty of those outages were in Durham County and 349 were reported in Orange County.

Duke Energy had 3,400 workers total out in the field fixing power lines brought down by ice and trees.

“Going forward, we’ll monitor the storm and deploy our crews to the areas that are most affected,” said Duke Energy spokesman Luke Currin.

As of late Thursday afternoon, the Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation, which also services Durham and Orange counties, said there were two Durham customers and two Orange customers without power.

The utility company had 35 crew members on standby to respond to power outages.