Snow, ice cripple Lee and surrounding counties

Feb. 13, 2014 @ 03:51 PM

Winter Storm Pax has wreaked havoc on Lee County and the surrounding area, leaving hazardous roads and hundreds of power outages in its wake.

Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter told The Herald Thursday morning that roads in Lee County “are in terrible shape.”

“People need to stay off the roads and stay home,” he said. “There are a few people out there driving around, but it’s not worth getting hurt or having your car torn up.” Carter said his officers were out on patrol, but the department wanted to be able to concentrate its resources on emergencies — “not on people who go out sightseeing and get into an accident.”

The sheriff added, “It’s just not a safe driving situation for anyone. It’s going to be bad for awhile.”

The National Weather Service reported five to six inches of snow accumulation in Lee County and the surrounding area, with an additional two-thirds inch of ice compounding the danger. The adverse conditions forced the cancellation of classes and other activities throughout the region and state, while numerous motorists were left stranded or forced to abandon their vehicles.   

Where possible, said Monica Coachman, N.C. communication specialist for the  U.S. Postal Service, mail carriers have been trying to make deliveries, "although we're leaving assessments to individual offices."   

"Yesterday, many carriers attempted," she said. "Some had to be towed back in."

Numerous area businesses were shuttered Thursday, although grocery, drug and convenience stores on major thoroughfares through Sanford were generally operating in the afternoon. The Food Lion grocery store at 2904 S. Horner Blvd. closed at 1 p.m. Wednesday, shortly after the snow started sticking and snarling travel, and reopened Thursday morning. Manager Donald Long said he, "like everyone else," was surprised by how quickly and how heavily the precipitation fell. 

"We had an initial rush yesterday, and it was like a madhouse ... " Long said, noting that the store did about a half-day worth of sales in a matter of a few hours. But having learned from previous weather events this year, he added, "we really were prepared; we're not out of any essential items where a lot of retailers would be." 

While many area residents did not go without bread or eggs, power outages were widespread across the four-county area. Central Electric's outage map showed 110 outages in Chatham, 1,279 in Harnett, 1,421 in Lee and 527 in Moore as of 3 p.m. Thursday.

"We're always very proactive; yesterday, we had crews on standby," said spokeman Heather Vaughan. Referring to the linemen working to resolve outages, she said, "These guys give their heart and soul, and they won't quit until everyone has their power back."

The most updated outage numbers for Duke Energy Progress as of Thursday afternoon were 2,500 in Moore, 700-plus in Chatham, 1,700 in Harnett and 1,213 in Lee. 

Company reps said approximately 3,400 field workers had boots on the ground Thursday morning, with additional crews expected, to restore power throughout the company's coverage area.

As of Thursday morning, Lee County Emergency Services Director Shane Seagroves stated that "state and city crews are working hard to clear the streets however, the side streets and roads are still in bad shape. Please stay off the roadways if at all possible."

While there was some improvement by Thursday afternoon, Lee Emergency Management Specialist Aaron Bullard said conditions remained substandard. 

"The main roads, Horner Boulevard and U.S. 1, they're passable; they've been scraped up pretty well," he said. "But secondary roads are pretty icy."   

Sanford Police Maj. Jamie Thomas described Thursday as "busy, busy, busy, busy, busy."

 "We've had our share of accidents, but no real serious injuries," he said.

From noon yesterday to 10 a.m. today, Thomas said, there were 44 calls for property damage accidents — and more calls from stranded and disabled motorists who had slid into a ditch or got stuck.

Chatham County reported receiving several inquiries about road treatment and clearing outside the towns, and in a prepared statement, officials explained, "in North Carolina, county governments are not in the road maintenance business at all and do not have the authority or equipment to do so."

That responsibility falls to the N.C. Department of Transportation, according to the statement, "and they are responding as fast as they can to a severe event affecting all parts of the state."  Those wanting to contact the department about roads in their area were encouraged to do so via https://apps.dot.state.nc.us/contactus/PostComment.aspx?Unit=Dis1_Div8.

But on the bright side, said National Weather Service meteorologist Nick Petro, the last of the precipitation associated with the weather event was expected to fall Thursday afternoon. The area could see an inch of accumulation from the storm's last blast, or two at most, he said.

Looking ahead, the forecaster said certain locations that had not been treated or cleared would remain problematic late Thursday into Friday, although temperatures that were expected to be in the upper 30s and low 40s "certainly will help get this cleared out." He warned that patches of black ice would continue to make roadways treacherous.

"The best thing to do is relax and stay put until the storm's over and conditions improve," he said.