Ice storm keeps county in its grip

Thursday, January 18, 2007

For almost two decades, area residents have referenced the Christmas ice storm of 1987 as the area's worst. Now, Barry County citizens have a new benchmark by which to rank future winter storms.

Bill Shiveley, general manager and chief executive officer of Barry Electric, said this past week's ice storm is more severe than the storm of 1987 because his crews are dealing with three days of ice build-up that hit the southwest Missouri area in waves rather than one night of ice accumulation.

Trees and power lines remain encased in thick ice thanks to temperatures that dipped well below freezing and are expected to stay there through at least Thursday.

On Monday, Shiveley reported that almost half of Barry Electric's system was down. Crews from at least three other cooperatives in Missouri, including Boone County Electric and Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric, as well as a crew from Louisiana, were assisting Barry Electric crews who have been working around the clock.

"Because everyone in this area is in the same situation, we're ranging far out to find help," said Shiveley.

Shiveley said his crews head out to work at around 5:30 or 6 a.m. each morning and don't call it a day until about 10 or 11:30 p.m at night, and then start all over again before dawn the next day. Shiveley himself has been averaging only about five hours of sleep a day since the storm hit.

A large number of residents living in the Wheaton, Purdy and Ridgley areas have been without power since Friday night. Shiveley said his crews have been working to restore electricity but have been frustrated by continued outages.

"Although the area around Wheaton was hit hard, we're experiencing outages all over the system," said Shiveley.

On Highway 86 north of Wheaton, 10 three-phase poles had snapped and other poles were bending with the weight of accumulated ice. There were also poles broken along Highway 96 and Highway B near Purdy and along Highway 37 just south of Butterfield.

"We getting the power back on and then it's going off again in two hours," said Shiveley. "It's going to get worse before it gets better."

Shiveley said he expects to still be restoring power to individual residences "into next week."

Power is restored based on a priority system. Electricity for nursing homes, hospitals and medical care facilities are Barry Electric's first priority. Then crews focus on the three-phase lines out of the system's substations.

"If we can pick up 50 people by restoring a line, we'll do that first before we work on a line that serves five people," Shiveley said.

All schools in Barry County were closed due to the ice storm on Monday, and only Cassville had resumed classes on Tuesday.

The Crowder College Watley Center in Cassville has delayed the start of its spring 2007 semester by a week. Angela Seymour, Watley Center director, said weather-related damage to power lines at Crowder's main campus in Neosho has caused the satellite campus in Cassville to postpone the start of its classes until Monday, Jan. 22.

On Tuesday, President George Bush declared Missouri as a national disaster area. Barry County was listed as one of the hardest hit counties in the state.

The Family Life Center in Cassville serves as the county's official emergency shelter. On Monday night, 31 people spent the night at the Center.

Jackie Hendrix, minister of missions at First Baptist Church in Cassville, said the Family Life Center has been open since Sunday for area residents displaced from their homes due to power outages since Sunday.

"The Red Cross provided cots and volunteers have been bringing in food," said Hendrix. "We've been cooking meals for those who are here, and right now, the Family Life Center is being left open (as a shelter) on a day to day basis."

Julie Sparks, of Purdy, was one area resident who found shelter at the Family Life Center on Monday.

"Last night was just too cold," said Sparks, who had been without power since 10:30 p.m. on Friday. "We couldn't handle it anymore."

Generators, lamp oil, kerosene and bottled water have been hot commodities in the Barry County area.

True Value in Cassville received extra shipments of generators and other emergency supplies in the wake of the storm. In addition to selling the eight generators it had on hand, True Value immediately sold 20 more generators it received by truck on Saturday.

"We also went through over 100 gallons of kerosene and all the lamp oil we had in stock. We worked extended hours due to the emergency weather," said Larry Westpheling, True Value owner.

Assistant Editor Lindsay Reed also contributed information for this news article.

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