Pax pulverizes county

First Byline: 
Staff - The People-Sentinel

As Winter Storm Pax pummeled all of Barnwell County and much of the state, local emergency and electrical officials' contingency plans were put to the test.
Emergency personnel train for situations like this, but as Pax rolled in a massive commercial fire strained resources early on.
Firefighters from several departments fought the fire raging through Buck's Hardware in Barnwell through the night as the rain, freezing rain and sleet began to fall in earnest.
As morning dawned Wednesday, Feb. 12, Pax had already spread a layer of ice across the county. As the day waned, frozen trees and limbs began to crash to the ground, ripping power lines off poles and snapping power poles like tooth picks.
In total, more than 70 percent of the county's electric customers lost power at some point during the storm.
Emergency declarations were made and operation centers were powered up. And they remain open as the recovery effort moves along.
Barnwell County Emergency Management Director Roger Riley said his office has transitioned to assessment and clean-up.
"Safety is the biggest message now," Riley said.
He said residents who do not normally use chain saws and generators should use extreme caution as they prepare to remove debris from their yards.
They should also be wary of "fly by night" clean-up crews charging exorbitant fees, he said.
Officials are asking residents to pull debris from the storm to the side of the road as Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) agents need to view the amount of debris to help qualify Barnwell County for federal disaster relief money. Residents are asked not to burn debris. Debris can not be taken to the county landfill because of the federal estimating procedures.
As of Monday afternoon, Riley said 80 percent of the roads in Barnwell County are "passable" but some dirt roads remain impassable.
All county public schools reopened Feb. 17 to normal schedules.
An estimated 653 Edisto Electric customers were still without power Tuesday morning and SCE&G was reporting around 100 customers still without power as of press time Tuesday afternoon.
Although temperatures have turned more spring-like, Riley cautioned those who are still living without power to be careful with their alternative heating. Residents should only use appliances designed to heat homes - not things like grills and cookers.
Barnwell City Fire Chief Tony Dicks said there has been at least one incidence of carbon dioxide poisoning of a family at the Woodmont apartments off Dunbarton Boulevard. The residents pulled a charcoal grill to the back door to heat the home last week, he said. Three people were transported to the hospital, but have since been released.
Debris left in the wake of Pax is estimated to be well over a million cubic yards statewide, while Barnwell County's debris estimates range from 175,000 to 225,000 cubic yards.
A Red Cross shelter that was opened at the Barnwell First Baptist Church due to Pax and the ensuing power outages is closed. Approximately 20 people stayed at the shelter. A special medical needs shelter was opened at the Southern Palmetto Hospital and it housed several residents who depended on power for oxygen and other medical needs.
Riley said he has logged more than 100 hours since Feb. 10, and he will continue to help coordinate recovery efforts as help from various counties and agencies pours into the county.
"Everybody has put forth a huge effort," Riley said about those who have worked and volunteered throughout the storm and cleanup. "We've used every resource available. No matter how well trained you are, there are not enough resources in any county in the state to handle this kind of widespread disaster alone."
Additional Emergency Management teams came from Abbeville and Anderson counties to assist Riley through the storm, and other counties, which were not as badly impacted, are lending their support.
Riley said his hat is off to all of those who worked to keep residents safe during and after the storm.
"I can't thank them enough," he said.