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Lingering ice keeps many at home

Deep freeze has been slow to thaw

POSTED: January 30, 2014 7:46 p.m.
 

FORSYTH COUNTY — Despite what authorities described as terrible driving conditions, there weren’t any major wrecks from Tuesday night into Thursday morning in Forsyth County.

Forsyth County Sheriff’s spokesman Doug Rainwater said in the ice 24-hour span from noon Tuesday to noon Wednesday, the department handled 196 wrecks and 155 reports of road obstructions, which included abandoned vehicles.

Rainwater didn’t have all the data available for the period between noon Wednesday to noon Thursday, but did say the call volume “went down tremendously.”

“I think that was due to people really heeding our advice and staying home or, if they had to go out, driving very slowly and cautiously,” he said.

Despite the high number of incidents Tuesday and Wednesday, there were no fatalities.

“And surprisingly, of all those calls there were not many even with injuries,” Rainwater said. “Again, I think we can attribute that to people driving slowly and cautiously.”

As of Thursday afternoon, it seemed that most of the icy areas had cleared due to sunny and warming conditions, or to salt and sand having been spread.

“The [county] roads and bridges department has done a phenomenal job of getting out to areas that were bad,” he said. “As soon as we’ve seen an area with lingering ice, they’ve been right out to put salt or sand on it.”

Rainwater also praised sheriff’s office staff for their work during the worst of the winter storm. Some deputies remained on duty for up to 18 hours to ensure thorough coverage.

Staff members with four-wheel drive vehicles went to pick-up their colleagues, while others, such as some 911 dispatchers, slept at work.

“It was all hands on deck and everybody did a great job,” he said.

Rainwater anticipated that by most, if not all, of the areas that had iced

would clear by today as temperatures were expected to approach 50 degrees.

“But people should still be careful,” he said. “You could be driving on a road that seems totally dry and then go around a curve and hit an area that’s shady and still has some ice.”

Traffic around the normally bustling retail areas of Cumming — including Tri-County Plaza, Lanier Crossing, Lanier Village and Market Place Boulevard — was nearly nonexistent Wednesday.

Many businesses and fast-food eateries were not open. Those that were, including Publix in Tri-County Plaza, closed early to allow their employees to return home safely. Both the county and city of Cumming government offices were closed Wednesday.

The closures included the Forsyth County Courthouse and all parks and recreation facilities. All programs and activities were cancelled.

Also called off were the county commission and planning board meetings scheduled for 2 and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, respectively. Planning board meeting cases will be heard at the next regular meeting on Feb. 25.

The closings also stopped advance voting on Wednesday in the Feb. 4 special election runoff to fill the District 22 state House of Representatives’ vacancy.

Forsyth County Fire Division Chief Jason Shivers said his department had managed to answer all of the calls two which it had been dispatched, but that some of the roads they first encountered were dangerous.

According to Shivers, the fire department fielded 52 calls between noon Tuesday and midafternoon Wednesday. Fifteen of those were medical related, while 22 involved crashes and four were to investigate smoke.

One call had been for a vehicle fire on Spot Road and the rest were for a variety of alarms and routine situations. 

All of the fire stations in the county are equipped with some type of four-wheel drive vehicle, explained Shivers, who added that those were being used to respond to non-fire-related calls whenever possible. 

“To minimize our risk and to work as safely as possible, we’re heeding our own advice and keeping our large equipment off the roads when we can,” he said.

Shivers went on to note that the call volume in Forsyth’s emergency operations center, which was activated Tuesday, had returned to normal levels as most people seem to be heeding officials’ advice to stay home.  

The Forsyth County school system announced early Wednesday afternoon that there would be no school or extracurricular activities and athletics Thursday.

Students also were out Wednesday and were released early Tuesday before the winter storm arrived.

Also closed both Wednesday and Thursday were the local campuses of the University of North Georgia and Lanier Technical College.

While many offices can just shut down during bad weather, that’s not the case for hospitals.

“We have to keep going no matter what,” said Lynn Jackson, administrator of Northside Hospital-Forsyth.

And that’s exactly what staff members did during the winter weather. Jackson said hospital leadership worked to ensure all areas of the facility were manned.

“The big thing for us is making sure we care for our staff so that they can care for our patients,” Jackson said.

She said about 50 rooms were booked for employees between the three hotels near the Ronald Reagan Boulevard facility. “We’re lucky to have hotels so close.”

In addition, she said Walmart helped with providing several air mattresses so some staff could sleep at the hospital. Some staff members who couldn’t drive in were picked up and taken to the hospital.

“We’ve got a few staff who seem to be expert drivers who take on the challenge of that,” she said. “We usually try to keep our radius relatively small so we don’t put anybody in danger, but we will go pick up some of our key personnel.”

Jackson praised all departments of the hospital for staff members’ willingness to do whatever is necessary to take care of everyone.

“I think we have a lot of unsung heroes, like our dietary staff who came in and cooked so we could feed not only our patients but all the employees and doctors and all those people … like visitors and family who couldn’t go home,” Jackson said. 

She noted that the hospital also got help from area public safety providers.

“We’re not an island; we’re part of the community assets and [public safety personnel] really help us to make sure that we keep the whole campus safe and available for ambulances, etc.,” she said, noting that during this weather event some public safety personnel even helped by transporting blood products that were “desperately needed” by some patients.

“That keep us ready for any emergency that could have come in,” she said.

 

Online Editor Jim Dean contributed to this report.

 

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