Conditions worsen as storm ices county

First Byline: 
Laura J. McKenzie, Publisher

Anyone stepping outside in Barnwell County Wednesday morning was met with rain that was turning to ice on trees, buildings and roads. Close your eyes and the sound is like Rice Krispies crackling as milk is being poured over them.

During the early morning hours, ice had begun to form. As the morning turned to afternoon, freezing rain became rain, but more freezing rain is expected Wednesday evening. 

Reports came in over emergency radio channels of downed power lines, falling tree limbs and blocked streets all over the county.

Throughout the day, emergency crews have worked to clear roads of downed trees and power lines. Power outages have spread across the county. South Carolina Electric and Gas reported more than 2,000 customers without power. 

Several Edisto Electric customers told The People-Sentinel they were without power, but attempts to reach the company for an exact figure have been unsuccessful.

Highways 37, 78 and 3 were mostly clear of branches and downed trees at 4 p.m.  

At 9 a.m. state officials issued a warning for "all motorists are urged to stay off of the roads as the threat of icy conditions continues to increase throughout the day. Ice can be deceptively dangerous, difficult to anticipate, and extremely difficult to drive on. Bridges and overpasses will ice first."

The South Carolina Emergency Management Division, in coordination with the S.C. Department of Public Safety and S.C. Department of Transportation strongly cautions motorists to stay off the roads until conditions improve.

The National Weather Service (NWS) ice storm and winter weather warnings are in effect for most of South Carolina. Forecasters are predicting extremely hazardous conditions which will cause power outages and substantial structural damage due to falling trees and ice. The storm is expected to continue through Wednesday night with conditions clearing up Thursday. 

SCDOT will focus on keeping highways passable for emergency purposes only. The overall goal is to keep all roads passable, but the extent of that challenge is unknown as weather conditions are expected to deteriorate throughout the day. Motorists who need to travel for emergency purposes are advised to first call 911 for emergency assistance. If it's absolutely necessary to drive, motorists should reduce their speed, avoid SCDOT trucks on the road and closely follow travel information as the weather system brings changing conditions.

Utility companies began Monday positioning personnel and equipment to best address anticipated service outages. However, worsening and widespread weather conditions could hamper restoration efforts. Residents should be prepared for the loss of electricity to their home for extended periods of time.

The following safety tips are recommended:
•While you still have electricity, keep mobile devices plugged in with a full charge. When power goes out, use your phone sparingly, for emergency calls, etc.
•Report downed power lines to the local power provider. Do not touch the wires or drive over them.
•Portable generators should not be used in any enclosed space, including a garage. Follow operating instructions and do not plug the generator into home electrical sockets.
•Gas stovetops, gas ovens and charcoal grills are unsafe heat sources for indoor use. These heat sources can release harmful or even fatal emissions when used in an enclosed space.
•Use battery powered lights instead of candles. If you must use candles as emergency lighting, be aware they can be dangerous.
•Individuals who have life sustaining medical needs like oxygen or who are in need of dialysis should call 9-1-1 in the event they do not have electricity.

Overnight, SCEMD activated the Emergency Alert System in all broadcast markets. Commercial broadcasters are strongly urged to continue running the issued Civil Emergency message once an hour until midnight Wednesday night.