Ice, wind down trees across area; thousands without power
Posted March 7, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — A winter storm felled dozens of trees and snapped power lines in the western part of the Triangle early Friday, knocking out power for thousands and creating travel headaches around the area.
Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency following the storm, allowing a faster response for those in need. He said more than 460,000 outages were reported across the state. Alamance, Person, Orange, Guilford, Randolph and Davidson counties were the hardest hit.
“While we have become very experienced in winter storm response during the past two months, each storm is different and can require different resources,” he said in a statement. “Today, we’re seeing more power outages than we had during any of the previous storms this year, and we need to do all that we can as quickly as we can to help those in need.”
Freezing rain and sleet fell in many parts of Durham, Orange and Person counties overnight and during the early-morning hours. By 7 a.m., dozens of roads and parts of Interstate 85 near Hillsborough were blocked.
In Orange County, where nearly 50,000 Duke Energy customers were without power at one point, the American Red Cross planned to open a shelter at Stanford Middle School in Hillsborough.
Duke Energy officials said crews from areas of the state not impacted by winter weather were being dispatched to spots with the most outages. The utility posted on Twitter that about 1,000 additional workers were called in to help.
"We'd like to thank our customers in advance for their patience as we work as quickly and safely as possible to restore power," Jeff Corbett, senior vice president of Duke Energy's Carolinas Delivery Operations, said in a statement.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation was employing a similar strategy, sending crews from Wake County and other areas minimally hit by the storm to places with more damage. Crews were clearing several inches of slush and trees from roads in the hardest hit counties.
In Orange and Alamance counties, two-person crews from the North Carolina Forest Service worked to cut and clear trees. Ten crews will be back at work Saturday, a spokesman said.
A spokeswoman for Orange County said crews were clearing roads as quickly as possible. About 80 trees were down in the county, including one that briefly blocked U.S. Highway 70 prior to 6 a.m. A utility pole snapped on Avondale Road in Durham shortly after.
The right lane of Interstate 85 North was blocked temporarily near Buckhorn Road due to a downed tree, and another tree fell onto Cole Mill Road in Durham, blocking travel lanes.
The Durham County Sheriff's Office responded to more than 65 reports of downed trees between midnight and noon, officials said.
In other areas that saw mostly rain from the slow-moving low pressure system, standing water was an issue during the morning commute.
Several commuter trains were also delayed or canceled due to downed trees on tracks. The Piedmont No. 73 train left Raleigh at 6:45 a.m., but had to return to the station and was canceled, officials said.
The winter weather prompted numerous school closings and delays Friday. Durham, Orange, Granville, Person, Vance and Mecklenburg County, Va. schools closed for the day. Warren County public schools started two hours late, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools began dismissing early because several facilities had no electricity, officials said.
At Elon University in Alamance County, a large tree fell onto a campus building, causing significant damage.
The heavy rains and power outages caused another problem: sewer overflows. State officials said the overflows were being reported in towns and cities from Wilmington to Asheville.
Overflows happen when significant rainwater enters the sanitary sewers, overwhelming the system. As a result, untreated sewage is discharged into waterways.
The state cautioned residents to "limit direct contact" with rivers, creeks and other surface waters.
The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services activated its toll-free hotline to help farmers affected by the winter storm. Farmers who have an agricultural emergency can call 1-866-506-6222. The hotline will be staffed 24 hours a day through Monday.