News From The Woods - February 2, 2009
NEWS FROM THE WOODS
By Bob Ketchum
Originally Published February 2, 2009
"The Big Ice Storm of 2009"
Northern Arkansas was hit with the worst ice storm in the history of Arkansas. In our neighborhood, we continued to enjoy electricity as all our neighbors around us lost theirs. We were truly lucky and I attribute our good fortune to the fact that last summer North Arkansas Electric Co-op ran out a brand new underground service to our house and the neighbor who just built a new house next to us. They used a ditch witch and ran underground cable and fiber optics from the nearest service relay station directly to our house.
We continue to have power. In daylight the area is simply beautiful but also very deadly. The power company says our lines are meant to withstand .5 inches of hard ice w/ 40 MPH winds. However, they are forecasting ice accumulation by tonight to be in the range of 1.5-2.5 inches so the forecast is not good. We are being advised to stock up on water, flashlights, candles, and as many warm blankets as we can muster. The trees in our yards are sagging under the tremendous weight of the ice. We are being advised to expect the worst by tonight and have been warned that by this evening it will be much worse. Our HVAC is propane, but without power the blowers and igniter will not function. We are one of the "lucky ones" as we have two fireplaces in the house. Unfortunately our wood supply has run low and because of the huge demand for wood we have so far been unable to restock. We have one rick which is enough burning both fireplaces for perhaps two days. I dulled the chain on the chain saw last week just cutting more wood so I don't know if our chain saw will even function if I try to use it now. We have few options at this point so pray for a speedy recovery of the electricity if/when we lose it. I for one am apprehensive because I know our utility companies are not prepared for anything like this. Traditionally, we do not get this kind of an ice storm here in the Ozarks, although last year Springfield, Missouri got the worst of the ice and my friends there went without power for almost two weeks straight. If that happens here... well........... you get the general idea. I do not know what the elderly and those w/o fireplaces will do here if this hits as hard as they are telling us. Our immediate community here is about 50,000. Many of those folks are retirees and live in mobile homes and reside in apartments, condos, and houses without any means of heat other than that supplied by electricity. Self-starting propane units are useless.
In preparatio and while we still have power we have been filling up ice cooler and any other containers we find with water from our well just for "flushing purposes".
Our power finally shut down at 10 AM this morning. The incredible weight on the lines finally took its toll on the electric service and has created a county-wide blackout. The single radio station still operating is our only source of news and information. A national state of emergency has been declared for our area. We heard that National Guard trucks are appearing around town. We are better prepared than most of our neighbors. We have two kerosene lamps and plenty of fuel for them. I always keep lots of flashlights around for our frequent Ozarks thunderstorms, and stock up on batteries as a matter of course. They are all coming in handy now. No one can get in or out of our subdivision, but my ATV has no problem getting around. I spent several hours driving around and inspecting damage and checking on neighbors. Many of the houses in our subdivision are summer homes for folks living in Jonesboro. They were all empty and it was just as well because most of the electric service boxes connected to their houses were ripped away from the house by the sheer weight of ice. I made lemonade from lemons by taking Robert for a sledding ride behind the ATV during the afternoon. We have an outdoor propane grill with a full tank which we will use to cook food and boil water. We played cards after dark by lamplight and listened to the radio station on our batter powered small transistor radio. Although phone service was out we still had our cell phones which were still working. We kept the batteries charged by using the car chargers. We kept both fireplaces (upstairs and downstairs) roaring with what wood we had left to keep our water pipes from freezing. Robert moved into our room and slept on the couch located near the fireplace. Lucas slept downstairs in order to keep the fire going down there during the night.
First thing this morning I ran across the street to check on a neighbor in poor health and whose husband was stranded in town at work. Their house does not have a fireplace. I found her bundled up in layers of blankets and clothing in her cold house surrounded by her only source of heat, ten candles. She was so happy to see me and said she had only bread to eat. Jane and I cooked up some meat before it would thaw and be ruined and delivered a hot meal to the neighbor, along with bottles of water we had stored and I also took over several buckets of water from our water cache for her toilet. I let her use my cell phone to call her husband, who was in town and was worried sick about his wife. He said the roads were just about clear enough that he would attempt to make the nine mile trip home later today. Meanwhile, we had all but run out of wood. I checked on our next door neighbor, also under medical stress with a respiratory affliction, and discovered that they had also run out of wood stored in their garage. He did have a nice supply of seasoned wood out back behind their storage shed. He told me to use whatever I needed, which was a real relief because my chain saw was useless. I took my two sons and the ATV and loaded up wood on Robert's sled (which had come in very handy) with wood, and then drove it up to their house and off loaded it on their porch. Then we returned for another load and delivered it to our house. The neighbor had been heating water using a small bottle of propane and a torch. Just before dark our power came on again, and stayed on for the rest of the night. We were so relieved.
Our relief was short lived as the power once again died at 10 AM. Fortunately, it was on long enough for us to have hot showers the previous night, and the freezer and refrigerator had a chance to cool the contents once again. The sun came out and melting ice from the trees started massive ice slides as the weight continued down the tree and brought down huge sheets of ice and ice water. I managed to capture some video of this and warned Robert not to get caught under a tree when the ice breaks loose.
By 3 PM the power was once again restored, but only to our house. We invited the neighbors over to stay but because of their poor health they were understandably reluctant to mix company for fear of catching a bug which would greatly complicate matters and endanger their lives. We spent the day cooking meals for the neighbors and emptying out the contents of their freezers into ours in order to save all the food stores we could for our neighbors. Anything that had thawed from their houses was immediately cooked over at our house and distributed to all. A hot meal and fresh water can really make your day if you've been without power for a week. I drove the ATV down to our boat dock. Fortunately it was in good shape and all I had to do was move it in a little, as the lake is rising from all the melting ice and snow.
We are still enjoying our good fortune and electricity. Phone, internet, and cable TV service was still out but we had our trusty radio tuned to the local station still broadcasting. It was much warmer today and ice is beginning to melt. Unfortunately the damage is done and it will still be weeks before some of these people get their power back. Across the lake, about 40,000 have been without power for a week. They are slowly returning power to sections of the county.... One line at a time. We see electric company trucks from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. FEMA has set up shop in town in the former WalMart store, a huge empty building. There are emergency vehicles parked all over that parking lot. The major insurance companies have their emergency response vans parked there as well as the Red Cross. The have almost daily truckload sales where hundreds of power generators (@ $600 a pop) are sold as fast as they can offload them. We still have only a single radio station operating locally. I don't know how they managed to stay online when all the others are down. They all have generators but the ice is so bad it affects the transmitting elements mounted on top of the towers. We're starting to see young men going door to door soliciting a clean up to retirees. They clean the wood off one piece of property and then sell it for firewood to another. Opportunists. It's ironic how dire straits bring out the best and worst in man. Just before dark I went outside and listened to the din of generators running all around us. It was an eerie sound.
Today the roads were clear enough that I could drive into town. The first thing we noticed was that the area looks just like a tornado swept through town. There isn't a single tree top left in Baxter County. Limbs are everywhere. Luke, Robert and I went to Jane's dad's f arm and spent the day clearing and cutting trees. We cut up enough wood to entirely fill the bed of his ¾-ton pick up. While he drove the wood out to our house in Henderson, I stayed in town and visited the supermarket. I stocked up on enough food and water for another few days of no power. I was afraid to really stock up on meats and whatnot because our own power could go back out at any time. Besides, we had enough meats from the neighbors to tide us all over even if all we could cook on was our propane grill. By the time we got back home, unloaded the wood, and delivered more wood to the neighbors it was almost dark and my back hurt so much I immediately got into the hot tub, which was like heaven to me. At least we have kindling to last us a couple of weeks now. The churches and local school gyms are full of folks that cannot live at home for lack of heat, electricity, and water. The only two grocery stores open have all but sold out of water, soda, milk, bread, and other necessities. Our next door neighbors finally caved in and they went into town and rented a motel room in order to have a hot shower and a hot meal at a local restaurant. The food and motel industry is booming due to all the repair crews in the area.
Emergency electric crews are working all over the county. However, we are still the only house in our development with electricity. By mid-morning we got our Internet DSL line back online. I had 846 emails to sift through. On the news today they said approximately 10,000 more citizens had power after crews worked night and day over the weekend in adverse conditions to restore power as soon as possible. Jane's folks in town are still without power and have been driving out to our place for a hot shower and dinner. I am still delivering hot meals across the street to the neighbor lady. I invited her over for a hot shower but she has so far declined my offer. Se says she doesn't want to leave here beloved beagle even for fifteen minutes. Pets are like people to some folks. I told her to just bring the dog with her but she is reluctant because of a recent hip injury. She says she is comfortable and reported today he electricity flickered once this morning. I told her it will only be a matter of time. Unfortunately, none of us know how much time. Our power went off this morning as I was about to take a shower. It gave us a scare but I think they were re-connecting some trunk lines as the power came back on fifteen minutes later and has been steady since then. None of the other area radio stations have yet to start back up and KTLO-FM is still the only broadcaster for thousands of desperate people to depend on for news and announcements. We got word that school will attempt to start up tomorrow, but the busses will only be able to drive snow routes, which means I will have to drive Robert up to the main highway to be picked up for school. Fortunately, the sun has been out for days and the temperatures have soared up into the 50's so the roads are all clear. Jane returned to work today also, so she will be able to pick up Robert at her folk's place in town after work tomorrow. At around 5 PM our neighborhood got power. The situation across the lake has not changed much. Things for us are returning to normal but I am prepared to lose power several more times perhaps before the entire system is restored. This should hopefully enhance our regional electrical grid for future outages.
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