, Corbin, KY

January 7, 2014

The Big Chill

Tri-County goes below zero from dangerous Arctic blast

By Jeff Noble, Corbin, KY

TRI-COUNTY — On Monday the Tri-County region dug out, layered down, delicately drove to their destinations and tried to stay warm.

That was after a strong Sunday night cold front brought rain, then snow, then cold winds and falling temperatures.

As a result, the area settled in for temperatures around to below zero this morning, with wind chill reading making it feel like it’s 20 to 30 degrees below zero.

All major school systems in the Tri-County shut down Monday.

There’s no school Tuesday in the Corbin Independent, Barbourville Independent, Knox County, Laurel County, Whitley County, Williamsburg Independent and East Bernstadt Independent school districts.

Also on Tuesday, Union College in Barbourville is on a two-hour delay, while the Laurel County Campus of Somerset Community College will open at 10 a.m.

Because of the bitter cold and dangerous wind chills, there’s no residential garbage pickup Tuesday in the City of Corbin.

City officials said garbage would be picked up Wednesday.

Residential garbage pickup was not done in Corbin on Monday, “due to weather conditions, as well as the extreme forecast, plus protection of our workers,” according to the city’s Facebook site.

Because of the extreme temperatures, the Corbin City Hall office will open Tuesday at 10 a.m, and will close at 4 p.m. The Whitley County car tags office at Corbin City Hall will also have the same hours Tuesday.

In Barbourville, the Arctic blast of wind and cold air couldn’t have come at a worse time late Monday afternoon.

That’s when all of Barbourville City Utilities’ (BCU) electric customers had no power after a utility pole belonging to KU (Kentucky Utilities) went down in the Artemus community around 4:50 p.m.

BCU gets their wholesale power through KU.

The city’s mayor, David Thompson, said a BCU crew was at the scene at their substation, doing general checks of the equipment, when the outage occurred.

“The whole grid’s out in Barbourville. Electricity, street lights, traffic lights, everything. There’s a  Cumberland Valley RECC crew from Gray right here helping out, and we’ve had city crews and firefighters helping out. The crews are trying to switch over as quickly as possible,” he noted at the scene during a phone interview moments after the power went out.

Power was restored 35 minutes later, just before 5:30 p.m.

“When something happens, everybody’s there to get it done,” Thompson said early Monday night.

Across the state, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet crews treated and cleared highways and roads into the afternoon.

Crews from District 11 in Manchester — which covers Whitley, Knox and Laurel counties — were no exception.

District spokesperson Les Dixon pointed out that with temperatures well below 15 degrees, state road crews were up against “impossible conditions” Monday and into Tuesday.

“It has been a long time since our district has had to travel in these temperatures. Our crews do an excellent job handling our typical snow events, but the extreme conditions that we are facing are not typical,” he said in an email Monday.

Dixon added a little sun today could go a good way with the road-treating process.

“Salt work to about 20 degrees and the addition of liquid calcium works in 12-15 degrees. When temperatures fall below that, our material applications are virtually of little help. If we are able to get sunshine Tuesday, it should help, but the wind and wind chill will play a factor as well,”

According to Dixon, skeleton crews were kept on hand Monday night in all District 11 maintenance garages in the counties they serve, to answer callouts or emergencies that came up overnight and to patrol primary routes in the district.

While the Winter Weather Advisory was cancelled Monday by the National Weather Service, all of the region was under a Wind Chill Warning Monday night until late Tuesday morning.

One of the biggest concerns were the likely flash freezing of any liquids on roads because of the bitter cold. The other were the dangerous conditions to people, animals and livestock being outside, due to the frigid temperatures and subzero wind chills.

In Corbin, the Princess Vermillion McBurney Recreation Center on Barbourville Street was turned into an emergency shelter Monday. The shelter was open for those needing a place to get away from the cold conditions, and was open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

On a normal day, the center is busy with activities for senior citizens, and with sports such as youth basketball.

Monday afternoon, the center’s Chris Taylor said he had the center pretty much to himself.

“This is the quietest this place has been that I can remember. We open up here at 7 a.m. and normally close at 9 p.m. But when I got here around 6:45 a.m., the city to keep it open today as an emergency shelter. The fire department brought blankets here just in case, but nobody’s been here. I ain’t seen a soul. I had a couple of kids try to come here today, but they stayed for about 30 seconds and left. I think where this is a small town and everybody knows each other, they tend to watch each other’s backs when you have something like this weather,” he pointed out.

But Taylor was busy Monday, answering the phone.

“As of 3:30 this afternoon, I’ve had 35 calls. Almost every one of those calls today have been to ask if we’re open. They ask if we’re open for senior citizens, or recreational activities and games,” he said.

As of Monday evening, Taylor didn’t know if the McBurney Center would be open as an emergency shelter Tuesday.

“I’ve got to come in around seven in the morning. We have play it by ear.”

Also on Monday, both Corbin Police and Corbin Fire crews patrolled city streets and roads for people stranded from the weather. They ask if anyone should become stranded to stay in their vehicle and call the fire department’s non-emergency number at (606) 523-6509 for assistance.

Corbin officials reminded people who live in the city that if their electricity goes out, or if a pipeline bursts in their neighborhood to contact Corbin City Utilities at (606) 528-4026.

They also asked Corbin residents to “please, be careful if you have to go out,” and “to be aware of their neighbors, especially the elderly.”

In Willamsburg, the city fire department — beside the old Cumberland Regional Mall on U.S. 25W — had a shelter in place Monday.

Mayor Roddy Harrison said Monday they had “about 21-25 cots at the fire hall” available to be used during the night and early today. “The fire hall’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so it makes sense to use it as a shelter for emergencies during this cold spell.”

Also in Williamsburg, a few extra persons came from the cold at Emergency Christian Ministries. That’s according to office worker Mike Shelley, who added people tend to come in and out of the shelter, and stay “for a bit.” before leaving.

Earlier in Barbourville on Monday, Thompson asked city residents to check on neighbors and family members, as well as the elderly and outdoor pets.

Assistant City Clerk Kathy Dozier also mentioned that if anyone in Barbourville loses services, such as gas or electric, to call 9-1-1.

In Laurel County, the Christian Shelter for the Homeless said they’re prepared to give assistance needed for the freezing weather.

Director Lance Marzula said Monday the last couple of days hasn’t seen any particular increase in people coming to the shelter. But he added winter always sees a general increase in people who need shelter from the cold.

Marzula said the shelter is at capacity, with approximately 50 people staying at the shelter. The Christian Shelter for the Homeless serves men, women, and families with children.

Laurel County Emergency Management Director Albert Hale, said no warming centers have been set up in the county as of Monday. However, he stated they would work with the Red Cross to set up warming centers should the need arise.

As for stranded motorists, Gilbert Acciardo of the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office advised travelers to stay home, unless travel is absolutely necessary.

Acciardo — who is public relations officer for the office — said people who are traveling should wear warm clothing and carry a cell phone with which to call 911, if they become stranded.

He added that in such low temperatures, hesitation to alert emergency services could be deadly in the absence of a running car or a working heater.

(Staff Writer LeeAnn Cain contributed to this story)