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County residents play it safe in coping with freeze


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Motorists largely stayed off Bartholomew County roads during Monday’s travel watch, meaning more of them also stayed out of the ditches.

With decreased traffic as schools, local government and some businesses closed due to below-zero conditions, emergency calls Monday were at near-normal levels, said Ed Reuter, Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center director.

“I kept hearing officers saying it seemed like an early Sunday morning coming through town instead of a Monday morning rush hour,” he said.

The low traffic volume allowed road crews and first-responders to do their jobs more quickly and efficiently than expected, Columbus Police spokesman Lt. Matt Myers said.

From early Sunday afternoon through noon Monday, first-responders assisted in 24 vehicle slide-offs, 25 property-damage accidents and assists to motorists, and three mishaps that resulted in minor injuries, Reuter said.

“Incredible, that’s what it was,” Dennis Moats, Bartholomew County emergency management director, said early Monday afternoon. “I haven’t heard of any major issues.”

Myers said that was because drivers heeded the advice to avoid unnecessary travel.

Semi accident

Indiana State Police and Columbus police did respond to an overturned semi early Monday on Interstate 65 that delayed traffic near the State Road 46 exit for 13 hours.

Just past midnight, a northbound semi loaded with coffee overturned on the interstate near the Columbus exit, blocking lanes, Trooper Matt Holley said.

The semi lost control on the snow- and ice-covered roadway. It overturned, landing on the driver’s side and initially blocking both northbound lanes.

Troopers managed to get the right lane open to allow traffic to pass after 8 a.m. The interstate was fully reopened at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

Although the threat of newly fallen snow has subsided, motorists — especially those in northern Bartholomew County — need to be on the lookout this morning for drifting snow on east-west roads, said Chief Deputy Maj. Todd Noblitt of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department. Strong winds were already starting to cause a number of high drifts late Monday afternoon, Noblitt said.

Following Sunday afternoon’s heavy rains, snow moved into Bartholomew County at about 9:25 p.m. Sunday, resulting in a majority of the reported slide-offs, Reuter said.

The city received 1.5 inches of rain Sunday, followed by an inch of snow early Monday morning, according to records kept at the Columbus Wastewater Treatment plant.

Bartholomew County’s snowfall total was about 10 inches less than counties to the north received.

Power outages

Duke Energy and Bartholomew County REMC began receiving power outage reports at 2 a.m. Monday, Moats said.

About 250 Duke Energy customers, most in western Bartholomew County and on the north side of Columbus, lost electricity, but by 9 a.m., the utility reported that all power had been restored, Moats said.

At about the same time, 34 homes and businesses served by REMC, mostly in the Ogilville area, lost power due to downed limbs and power lines, utility spokeswoman Marty Lasure said. However, the lights and heat were back on by 7 a.m. Monday, Lasure said.

“High winds and low temperatures does create havoc on equipment, but it appears the winds took the weight off most of the power lines,” Lasure said. “But when temperatures plummet, demand goes up. Overloaded transformers can still blow, so we’re still on high alert.”

Business decisions

Monday was Cummins’ first day back in operation after a holiday break, and workers at the region’s largest employer were encouraged to put the health and safety of themselves and their families first, said Jon Mills, the company’s director of external communications.

“Cummins leaders understand that the extreme conditions may impact day-to-day activities,” Mills said in an email, adding that overall, operations were continuing normally. The exception was the Cummins Child Care Center, which was closed until today.

Emergency personnel were also grateful for the small businesses that allowed their employees to stay home Monday.

Steve Leach, owner of the Garage Pub and Grill, said downtown looked like a morgue Monday, validating his decision to close the restaurant.

“We had numerous employees calling today because either their cars wouldn’t start or their car doors were literally frozen shut,” Leach said. “We didn’t really anticipate having much business today.”

Dr. Darrell Day, of Day Chiropractic Clinic, said his staff had to reschedule 40 to 45 appointments scheduled for Monday, when he decided to close for the day. Although he has been in business in Columbus for 15 years, he has never seen temperatures this cold.

Day said that he closed the office for the safety of his staff and because he knew that many patients would cancel appointments.

Lesa Dial, office manager for Southern Indiana Heart and Vascular, said that the practice was originally going to just open late Monday, but as the extent of the slick roads and cold temperatures became apparent the decision was made to close.

“When you are a physician’s office, it is tough because your patients need to be seen,” Dial said. “We ultimately just decided to close because of the safety of our patients and our employees.”

The practice had to contact about 100 patients to reschedule appointments, Dial said.

Non-essential services for the city were closed today by the mayor’s office for a second straight day.

Health concerns

As of noon Monday, the Columbus Regional Hospital emergency room had not seen any cases of frostbite, hypothermia or other weather-related health issues.

“Everyone seems to be following the guidelines and warnings out there,” hospital spokeswoman Denise Glessing said.

Nevertheless, Reuter is urging local residents — especially the elderly — to postpone shoveling their sidewalks until after the wind-chill warning expires.

Three warming centers set up by the city remained unoccupied late Monday morning. While eight residents requested emergency shelter over the weekend through the Horizon House, it was a level of demand that was not considered unusual.

Only two calls about frozen pipes were received Monday morning by the Columbus Utilities office — a number described by Utilities Director Keith Reeves as “amazingly light.”

Road applications

Area roads improved a bit Monday as sunshine did some of the work for road crews, but highway workers acknowledged the subzero temperatures weren’t helping.

With these temperatures, treatments on roads and streets are usually not effective, said Columbus City Garage Manager Bryan Burton and Bartholomew County Highway Superintendent Dwight Smith.

However, Monday’s sunshine did help the salt melt a little of the frozen rain under the snow, Burton said.

“When you have blue skies one day after a major winter storm, sunshine is your best friend,” Burton said.

After pre-treating streets Saturday, Burton’s road crews began working at 6 p.m. Sunday and continued at intervals through the night, he said.

At the same time, county road crews braved high winds and limited visibility to clear snow drifts, as well as putting down a mix of salt and sand at intersections and hills to give drivers some traction, Bartholomew County Highway Engineer Danny Hollander said.

“I think most county roads are drivable under low speeds unless you hit a big snow drift,” Hollander said. “But if you decide you want to go 50 miles per hour, you will end up in a ditch.”

The prevailing concern is that motorists might be lulled into a false sense of security while the wind chill advisory remains in effect, Noblitt said.

“The roads won’t be in much better shape through (today),” Noblitt said. “We’re going to continue to schedule 12-hour shifts through at least Wednesday morning and reevaluate the situation at that time.”

Myers reminds residents that temperatures will continue to be dangerously low.

“The community is being advised to stay indoors (today) as well, if possible,” Myers said.

There could be several more inches of snow to call on Thursday, when temperatures are expected to rise into the 30s, Moats said.

“After what we’re going through now, I think that’s very doable.”

Republic reporter John Clark contributed to this report.

How to get assistance

Warming centers

The Commons, 300 Washington St., will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. today as a warming center. Donner Center and Hamilton Center, previously open as warming centers, will be closed today.

Trash collection

The City of Columbus will have regular sanitation collection service today.

ColumBUS transit

service canceled

The city has canceled all fixed-route ColumBUS Transit service and non-essential Call-a-Bus service today because of dangerously cold temperatures. Frostbite can occur in less than 20 minutes at the forecast wind-chill temperature, putting at risk the well-being of riders waiting on buses. Also, diesel fuel congeals at low temperatures and plugs the fuel filters and fuel lines, putting the reliability of the buses at risk.

Limited Call-a-Bus

service available

Call-a-Bus service will be available from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. today for those who need transportation for essential medical services such as medical appointments, dialysis and prescription pick-ups. Columbus residents in need of medical transportation service should call ColumBUS Transit at 376-2506.

Overnight shelter

Anyone needing shelter overnight may call Horizon House, 724 Chestnut St., at 799-1062.

Anyone who is homeless, a stranded motorist, or those who have lost residential heat with no ability to access or pay for temporary accommodations may seek emergency housing provided by Love Chapel, the Columbus Township Trustee’s Office or the American Red Cross.

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