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Winter weather led to closures, power outages

Snow still covered roadsides, and patches of ice held to parking lots over the weekend in the wake of a winter storm that arrived Jan. 9, closing roads and schools beyond McDuffie and Warren counties.

Area residents bought electrical generators after power was interrupted in some rural areas. Stores quickly sold out of sidewalk salt and car de-icers. Plumbers worked extra hours after overnight lows in the teens caused pipes to freeze and burst.

Grocery and restaurant workers worried about deliveries; workers waited for tardy paychecks; and accountants stranded at home by the freak storm worked to complete payrolls.

Public gatherings were canceled or rescheduled as communities struggled to cope with the second onslaught of winter within two weeks.

The storm left roadways unsafe through much of the Southeast. Travel between Thomson and Augusta became treacherous. As late as Saturday, the traffic sign above westbound Interstate 20 at the Grovetown weigh station discouraged travel to Atlanta.

Road crews spread salt and sand to keep pavements dry, but the one-two punch of rain freezing on top of the snow made roads and especially bridges hazardous.

Restaurants worry

Despite delayed deliveries, Thomson's Huddle House restaurant was able to keep its doors open. The store ran out of 20-ounce plastic foam cups, and nothing more, before a Huddle House Deliveries truck arrived Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 12.

"I wouldn't have run out of anything if it had arrived this morning," manager Pam Dixon said. She explained that managers are trained to order extra food in advance of bad weather, and she had exercised that option.

Driver Quentin Smith backed his rig up to the back door of the restaurant about 3 p.m. Wednesday. He said he usually arrives about 10 a.m. He said the weather delayed him. "Instead of delivering nine stores, I only delivered seven stores yesterday," he said.

"It's not bad here, but I came from Atlanta," Mr. Smith said as he unloaded the truck.

After Ms. Dixon rushed a sleeve of cups to the counter area, Mr. Smith carted dry goods and frozen items down a ramp to the store's freezer and storage area.

"I saw so many drivers going too fast for conditions," he said of his trip. "A lot of people felt invincible."

"It was bad here yesterday," Ms. Dixon told him.

His deliveries did not include the restaurant's payroll, which usually arrives Tuesday by a parcel service.

Stores play it close

Grocery and convenience stores met the expected rush for bread and milk with mixed results.

Thomson IGA store manager David Taylor said the store kept "busy, busy, busy" on Monday and Tuesday, but reported, "We never ran out of bread or milk."

"We really got a lot of business over the weekend," he said. "We had like three days' notice." So staff stayed busy restocking shelves as trucks arrived Wednesday after the storm.

"Plus, we're going through a major remodeling here," he said.

Bi-Lo co-manager Bubba Gibson said the store was able to keep milk in stock. "We got an emergency order ahead of time," he said.

"Bread was my biggest issue, trying to get some more bread on the shelves," Mr. Gibson said. "It got empty for probably about a half a day and they got another small shipment to use."

He said customers were very understanding.

"A lot of people couldn't get to work, and people were working to pick up the slack for them," he said. "It was great the way they came together and different ones gave people rides to work."

Christina Weaver, the manager of the Sprint store at Main and Hill streets, said, "We were open 24 hours, never closed."

The store stayed busy, she said. "People who still had to work, like us, came in."

In Dearing, Mills Convenience Store owner Heath Mills said, "Actually business was pretty decent."

"We ran out of bread, that's all," Mr. Mills said.

Axon's Mini Mart in Dearing reported no problems from the storm.

In Warrenton, Gunns Mini Mart and Doug's Quick Stop reported no problems.

Power interrupted

Ice clinging to frozen trees sent branches crashing into power lines.

Georgia Power spokesman Jeff Wilson said only two customers lost service in Thomson and the surrounding area, and those outages were resolved within two to three hours.

"We certainly dodged a bullet with this storm," he said. "Fortunately, there was more snow than there was ice."

Steve Chalker, the spokesman for Jefferson Energy Cooperative, reported that approximately 1,100 customers lost power. The cooperative serves 30,000 customers in 10 counties.

"We had all the power restored by 11 o'clock Tuesday night," he said. There were some repeat outages, but he said, "That's normal." Mr. Chalker described the repairs as "a slow process." He said one line was repaired six times Sunday night because more branches kept crashing into the line.

"We even had a couple places when the trees that fell over were so big that they broke the poles," he said.

Emergency supplies

Tractor Supply Co. store manager Gloria Moss said the Thomson store sold 15 to 20 electrical generators during and after the storm. The store's models range from a basic $200 generator to a $1,300 unit.

She said TSC customers bought up the whole supply of driveway salt, but more arrived Wednesday. Shoppers also bought all the spray de-icers for windshields.

Other popular items included kerosene heaters and heavy clothing. "We sold coveralls and the bib insulated coveralls," she said.

"We actually opened for three hours Monday, and we sold a tractor tire tube or two for sledding, to go out and play in the snow," she said.

Damage from cold

Overnight temperatures as low as 16 caused some water pipes to freeze or even burst.

Sam McNeely, the owner of McNeely Plumbing in Thomson, said he had made about 20 repair calls during the week. "I'm on one right now in Augusta," he said Friday.

"It's just mainly due to the drop in temperature, not necessarily the ice," Mr. McNeely said. He said poorly insulated lines exposed to the cold were most vulnerable.

He urged residents to "make sure their water lines are insulated, and make sure there is just a little water moving through the pipes." He recommended a small trickle, about the diameter of a pencil lead, to keep lines open.

Work will wait

Many people who were unable to get to their offices early in the week found their work still waiting for them late in the week.

"I'll be here all day Saturday," said Diane Purvis, who was working on payrolls and reports at Cherry, Bekaert & Holland in Thomson.

The Wrens resident was unable to reach Thomson on Monday or Tuesday.

At McDuffie Feed & Seed, owner Charles G. Newton II said the store was able to serve its customers, with only one unscheduled day off. The store sells livestock feed in addition to bedding materials that animals need in severe weather.

"We closed Monday and then opened early Tuesday," he said. "I saw some tire tracks where people had been there. But there were no emergencies, and I didn't have to pull anybody out of the ditch or anything."

"Everything was just wonderful," he said.

No overdue books

Hazardous roads kept staff away from the Thomson-McDuffie County Library for four days.

By late Thursday, patrons were circling the parking lot, and found a reopening notice posted on the library's back door.

When the library opened at 11 a.m. Friday, patrons learned they would not face fines for materials that could not be returned earlier in the week.

"We just backdated our check-in, so nobody's gonna be penalized," Library Services Coordinator Suzan Harris said Friday.

She said patrons were understanding about the unscheduled closing.

"I mean we've had snow twice," she said. "We don't have snow twice in Georgia in the same year.

"And this isn't even February or March, when it usually snows."



Web posted on Thursday, January 20, 2011













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