Historic ice storm

Thursday, January 18, 2007

As I write this editorial, I am no longer relying on my computer's battery power but instead am able to plug my laptop into the electrical outlet thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Barry Electric whose crews have been working around the clock since Friday night. I also realize I'm one of the lucky ones. Despite the valiant efforts of our local electrical crews, power outages are still being experienced system-wide.

This week's ice storm has surpassed the storm that hit Barry County in December of 1987. I remember that storm well, because it occurred just 12 days after the birth of my oldest son. In fact, we e-mailed Nick photographs of our yard filled with ice-covered trees and endless downed limbs and told him this storm rivaled the one that ushered in his birth. It's hard to believe that tiny baby is now a freshman in college.

Three days of accumulating ice is taking its toll on area electrical lines. We drove throughout the county on Monday and could not believe our eyes when we saw one electric pole after another snapped in half by ice encrusted lines that dipped to the ground. After travelling through Ridgely, Wheaton and Purdy, it was clear that they received heavier ice than the general Cassville area but all of Barry County is suffering from downed tree limbs and stressed power lines. Although most main roadways remained free of ice, back roads are plagued by limbs and felled trees that have made driving treacherous in places.

At a time like this, it is important that we all look out for one another. Neighbors need to check on neighbors, and special care should be taken to make sure the elderly and infant children are staying warm. The Family Life Center in Cassville remains open for those who have no electricity and need a place to stay until electricity is restored.

Because people want to stay at home and keep warm, they often put themselves at risk by attempting to heat their home in unsafe ways. Barry County Emergency Management Director Dave Compton is urging area residents to use generators or alternative heat sources wisely. Generators should be placed outside the home in a well-ventilated area. Generators produce carbon monoxide, which is a colorless, odorless gas that is deadly. According to Compton, one death has occurred in the area due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

In addition, people should pay close attention to candles and keep the flame away from combustible materials. The use of flashlights is always a better choice. Propane, kerosene or heating oil space heaters should never be used in an enclosed room. These heaters require a well ventilated area to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Area residents are also being warned about running a vehicle in an attached garage.

Barry County residents should also be careful when clearing limbs away from houses. If the downed limbs are entwined with a power line, it's always best to wait for the power company to clear the area. Also people should be aware that pulling down limbs could cause other limbs to fall on them, which could cause serious injury. Compton is also alerting area residents to the possibility of contractor fraud that always rears its ugly head following a disaster. References should be checked before a contractor is hired to remove debris. It is also advisable to refrain from paying out any money until the job is complete.

Barry County will eventually surface from the ice storm, and in the meantime, we appreciate all those who are working hard to restore power and ensure public safety. Once again, area residents reveal their worth during times of disaster. It's nice to know we live in an area where neighbors still help neighbors and our emergency workers don't stop until their jobs are done even if it means working round the clock with little sleep.