Thousands still without power as cleanup begins

The storm has passed and the cleanup is underway in Barnwell County.

Winter Storm Pax left thousands in the county without power after frozen tree limbs, and in some cases entire trees, fell and brought power lines down with them.

Over 2,000 SCE&G customers are still without power in Barnwell County. The figure had risen to more than 5,000 by Thursday afternoon before crews began to turn the battle in their favor as the weather warmed and ice began to melt. The company brought in workers from other states to help restore customers' power as quickly as possible.

Edisto Electric at one point Thursday had 14,000 out of nearly 20,000 customers in eight counties without power. That figure was estimated at around 10,000 by noon Friday and a representative with the cooperative said crews have arrived from Kentucky and North Carolina to assist with power restoration.

The vast majority of Edisto Electric customers should have their power back on by Saturday evening, the representative said.

The majority of residents in the city of Barnwell and the towns of Williston and Blackville had power by noon Friday, and roads in those areas are mostly clear, officials said.

Barnwell Fire Chief Tony Dicks said the smaller towns and unincorporated areas of the county will see longer outages because homes are more spread out and crews focus on the higher density areas first.

Southern Palmetto Hospital lost power during the storm but now has full power. It has generators and can continue to operate if power is lost.

Life was starting to return to normal as businesses and restaurants opened later in the day Thursday and Friday morning. Roads were filled with traffic Friday morning as people headed to work and to buy supplies for the long cleanup process ahead of them.

County schools were closed Friday and will re-open Tuesday. Monday is Presidents Day, a federal holiday.

Barnwell City Administrator John Zawacki said crews are still working to clear fallen limbs from streets and that residents can start putting their debris on the side of the road. The city is working with the county to bring in a cleanup crew to pickup the debris in the coming days and weeks. The county has a company on retainer for that job, Zawacki said.

The main focus in the town of Williston is clearing the streets too, Town Administrator Kenny Cook said, and crews are making good progress. He said that would continue to be the focus in the next few days.

Cook asked that people clearing debris in their yard simply put it by the side of the road and cut it into pieces no longer than 5 feet.

Cook said Wednesday's regular garbage route should be run today. Residents whose garbage isn't picked up can leave it by the side of the road and call town hall if it's not picked up by Friday.

Blackville Mayor Mike Beasley said power is coming back on across the town and crews are working to clear the roads, which he said are in good shape. He said the town is working on a cleanup plan and residents should call Town Hall with questions or issues to report.

County offices were closed Friday, but the county's Emergency Management Director Roger Riley and his crews were working to survey the situation, clear roads of debris and assist residents. 

County Administrator Pickens Williams Jr. has been out with crews and said they are working on secondary roads and dirt roads, which still have plenty of debris on them. He said the county's public works crew, Sheriff's Department and firefighters are working together.

Residents should not bring their debris to the county landfill, officials have said. The state has been declared a federal disaster zone, which means communities can receive Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to help pay for the cleanup process. The towns and county must keep track of expenses and follow specific protocol to receive funds.

Officials are encouraging people to be patient, especially with power outages. If you don't have power and think there may be damaged lines in your area, you should call your power provider to notify them.

Town and county officials are working together to develop a cleanup plan for all the debris. Cook, in Williston, said the town may look into finding a place to burn all the fallen limbs and debris.

Officals expressed their gratitude and thanks to all the crews and firefighters who worked during the storm and will continue to work during the cleanup.

Dicks said people without power should switch off their main breaker to avoid any power surges or issues that could occur if there is a damaged power line in their area. 

If you don't have power and are trying to heat your home, make sure you use an appliance that is approved for indoor use, Dicks said. Don't use charcoal and lighter fluid indoors, he said.