3,400 without power in Bollinger County; crews still trying to clear roads for emergency vehicles

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Another 400 Black River Electric Cooperative customers in Bollinger County lost power shortly after 5 p.m., according to the cooperative's manager of dispatch, pushing the total without power to 3,400 in Bollinger County, up from 3,000 at 5 p.m., but down from 5,000 this morning.

Many Bollinger County residents are still stranded by icy or impassable roads, according to Tom Bennie at the Marble Hill Fire and Rescue Command Center set up at the city hall.

Volunteers with the Marble Hill Fire and Rescue are waiting for a water shipment from the National Guard, which will come sometime this afternoon to early evening, Bennie said. He said the water will come in 45-gallon jugs and volunteers will distribute it to residents who call in their need.

All workers, 25 in all, with the Fire and Rescue are volunteers and Bennie said they've been working 18-hour days, from 6 a.m. to midnight since Monday.

"That doesn't count calls that come in when they're on the way home," he said, adding that volunteers often are detoured from their drives home to assist residents in need.

Bennie said the fire and rescue have responded to one house fire since the ice storm and most of their calls are medical responses. He said stranded residents call the command center if they're in need of medicine or other items, and rescuers are making deliveries.

"We're willing to deliver fuel and food if they work it out so items are already paid for," he said. For medicines, residents call ahead to the pharmacy and rescuers can pick up the medications and deliver them with four-wheel drive vehicles, many times clearing the way with chain saws as

they go.

"We prefer to pick people up and take them to the warming center at First Baptist Church," Bennie said. The warming center at New Salem Baptist Church closed after a recommendation from the American Red Cross that there be only one designated warming center for the county, he said.

"It's better that there's only one center to worry about as far as keeping power and supplies," Bennie said. He said 15 people spent the night Wednesday evening at the First Baptist Church and that the Red Cross has now provided cots and blankets. He said the warming center is more than a place to get warm -- food and water is also available there.

He said conditions are improving throughout the county, with 60 to 70 percent of the affected area cleared. Crews worked all day Wednesday to clear downed trees, he said. Today the bulldozer crews have been able to begin breaking the ice off of roads and clearing paths large enough for emergency vehicles and utility crews to get through.

"If you were to draw a line on the map through the county from south of M Highway and north of FF Highway, that's the area that was the worst affected by downed trees and power lines," he said.

He said Bollinger County has one bulldozer crew and four more bulldozers with operators have come from outside the county to assist with cleanup.

Two came from Wayne County, one from Perry and one from Iron County, he said. Three to five chainsaw operators are with each bulldozer crew, he added.

Until emergency vehicles can get through, volunteers are transporting patients in four-wheel drive personal vehicles from the scene to a location reachable by ambulance when medical needs arise.

"Luckily we haven't had any major medical needs that we couldn't transport with our own vehicles," he said.

Bennie said he wanted to remind those without power that it is never a good idea to use open flame cooking devices inside the home because it can cause carbon monoxide build up, which can be fatal.

Bollinger County residents in need of assistance can reach the Marble Hill Fire and Rescue by calling the command center at 573-238-3517.

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