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Roads still icy, dozens remain without power

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More than 250 homes in Franklin were without power in bitter cold temperatures Monday afternoon, with the chance that electricity wouldn’t be back on until midnight.

Duke Energy had 267 customers without electricity, with 264 in Franklin, due to a broken underground cable that may have been overloaded with increased electric usage for heating in the cold weather, district manager Steve Bahr said.

Initially, the company reported that power would be back on by 6 p.m., but later in the day Bahr estimated that it would be by midnight.

Residents should seek shelter elsewhere, such as at a warming station, if their homes don’t have electricity or a heat source, he said.

More than 24 hours after heavy snow began to fall on Johnson County, residents Monday battled frigid temperatures, up to 11 inches of snow, power outages and roads glazed thickly in ice.

Motorists were told to stay off the roads for most of Monday, but by evening county officials lifted that restriction.

The county commissioners downgraded Johnson County to a travel watch, which means residents are discouraged from traveling except for emergencies or other necessary travel, such as going to and from work.

you should know

What about the travel warning — could drivers be cited if they were on the road in Johnson County.

A: Yes, but police officers and sheriff’s office deputies handled each case individually. Police weren’t setting up roadblocks or spending a lot of time trying to stop traffic they saw on the streets. But if a car drove off the side of the road because people were on their way to breakfast, chances are they’d receive a citation, Cox said.

What is the point of the ban?

A: Fewer drivers on the roads means that plows, salt trucks and other highway department vehicles will have an easier time doing their job, without having to constantly navigate around other vehicles, Cox said.

What are some examples of some of the workers who can be on the road during the ban?

A: Employees working for hospitals, city or county emergency services as well as workers for utility companies.

Has anyone been ticketed?

A: Cox knew of no citations that had been issued as of Monday afternoon.

— Tom Lange, tlange@dailyjournal.net

The change was made Monday evening so that employers could have more time to make a decision about whether to open their businesses today, Johnson County Emergency Management Agency director Stephanie Sichting said. Although conditions are still icy, local officials felt comfortable allowing some traffic to get back on roads, she said.

The county had been under a travel warning for about 24 hours, which restricted travel to only emergency workers or motorists with emergencies. Local officials had met at noon Monday and decided not to reduce travel restrictions to give highway and street departments more time to work on roads that are covered in ice and compressed snow.

Those conditions still exist in most parts of the county, so drivers should plan to travel slowly and use caution if they leave home today, commissioner Brian Baird said.

“The roads are still bad. They will still be bad in the morning. They are ice-covered. They are slick. They are hazardous. Drivers should give more time for stopping, slow their speeds down and if they get off the road it could be a long time before someone comes to help them,” Baird said.

Johnson County will likely remain under a travel watch until Wednesday or Thursday, Baird said.

Some businesses opened Monday, and residents questioned whether to follow the ban and stay home or try to make it into work. All six Johnson County school districts are closed again today, and schools including Franklin and Center Grove made the decision to shut down before noon Monday.

Plow drivers weren’t able to break apart ice on the roads because of the cold. But road crews could make progress Tuesday as slightly warmer temperatures are in the forecast, local officials said.

“Our desire is not to keep it at this level any longer than we have to, as we know it does put a strain on the people,” Baird said. “Please be patient and let us work to get things back to a safe condition. We’re working as hard as we can.”

Westview Drive in Franklin didn’t have any snow on it Monday, but the road was covered in a sheet of thick ice, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

In Greenwood, major streets such as Smith Valley Road, Madison Avenue, County Line Road and Main Street were clear of snow, but they were slick with ice, Mayor Mark Myers said. Some neighborhood streets were still blanketed in snow part of the day Monday because street crews hadn’t gotten to them yet, he said.

The ice coating was just as dangerous to drive on as the thick snow, and in rural areas snow kept blowing from the fields back onto the roads, Sheriff Doug Cox said.

All roads in the unincorporated area are slick and dangerous to travel on despite all-day plowing, Johnson County Highway Department director Luke Mastin said.

“I wouldn’t pick a worst at this point. Every road, for any number of reason, is difficult to navigate at this point,” Mastin said.

About 200 Greenwood residents were without electricity Monday morning, so the city opened the community center as a shelter in case any people needed a warm place to stay, Myers said. The city will keep the center open as a shelter as needed, and as of Monday afternoon three people had sheltered there.

Franklin also opened its recreation center as temporary housing, but no city residents had come in, parks department director Chip Orner said. Plow truck drivers had taken breaks to eat at the center and get warm, he said.

Center Grove school officials also offered school buildings as shelter in case the White River Township Fire Department needed to evacuate residents without heat in their homes.

Temperatures in the county were around 11 degrees below zero Monday afternoon with a wind chill of negative 37 degrees, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Michael Koch. The high temperature for today was expected to be nearly 10 degrees, with the weather warming to 30 degrees late Wednesday afternoon, he said.

Local hospitals treated county residents who slipped on ice or had chest pain after overexerting themselves shoveling snow. They reported one frostbite case Monday and no hypothermia patients.

Franciscan St. Francis had seven patients with fractures from falls on ice and two treated after car accidents from the icy roads, spokesman Joe Stuteville said.

Patients who faced weather-related flight delays while traveling also contacted Community Hospital South to get medication prescriptions called into pharmacies away from home, spokeswoman Courtney Jones said.

Travel conditions within the county weren’t expected to improve much before morning, but plows might be able to make progress today as temperatures warm up a bit, local officials said.

Throughout Monday, county plow crews were primarily focusing on keeping drifting snow off the roads and weren’t able to make any progress against the layers of ice and packed snow on roads, Mastin said. Even with lots of sun, temperatures were too low to work with salt to break up the ice.

“When the sun comes back out, we’ll really be looking at clearing the ice layer off the pavement if we can,” Mastin said.

The sun and all-day plowing helped make minor improvements along some roads, such as Home Avenue in Franklin, where pavement was starting to show through in some spots on the street, McGuinness said. But the majority of roads were still slick, covered and hazardous, he said.

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