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Tri-Cities struggles to cope with storm's effects; shelters open for those without power and water

Kevin Castle • Dec 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

The damage left in the wake of Friday’s snow event left county and city crews out all day Saturday to restore services and try and bring roads back to traveling condition.

Thousands were left without power, municipal services such as water were shut down as electricity to pump stations went out with the weight of wet snow collecting on and snapping tree branches and power lines on the way down.

“Some of the worst I’ve seen,” said Scott County Emergency Services Coordinator Jeff Brickey after being out most of the morning Saturday surveying the snow’s path.

“In some places, it could be a week before everything gets back to normal. We are just asking our residents to be prepared to ride things out with what they have at their homes right now, and if they need emergency help, they need to contact our emergency center.”

A state of emergency was declared in the county at 4 p.m. Friday and seven shelters have been established for residents to come and stay if necessary:

• Gate City Middle School.

• Hiltons Volunteer Fire Department.

• Nickelsville First Baptist Church.

• Dungannon Methodist Church Fellowship Hall.

• Three Bells Methodist Church in Duffield.

• Maranatha Church in Yuma.

Brickey recommends that folks who do decide to stick it out at their homes need to stock up on such items as batteries, nonperishable foods, flashlights and prescription medications.

City of Kingsport Community Relations Coordinator Tim Whaley said the city is working with the American Red Cross of Northeast Tennessee in setting up shelters for residents at the Civic Auditorium and at the Ruritan Club location on West Carters Valley Road.

In addition to the locations at the Civic Auditorium and West Carters Valley Road, shelters were set up at:

• Fall Branch Volunteer Fire Department in Fall Branch.

• Tri-Cities Baptist Church in Gray.

• The Health Department Annex in Elizabethton.

• Mountain City Elementary School in Mountain City.

• First Baptist Church in Erwin.

• The Fall Branch Volunteer Fire Department in Fall Branch.

Water customers in outlying areas of Kingsport saw water slow down to a trickle or go completely dry due to pump stations going without power.

“In the Lynn View, Ridgecrest, Indian Springs, Sullivan Gardens, Willow Springs and Rock Springs area, those folks need to go ahead and begin conserving water as soon as possible,” said Whaley.

“Appalachian Power is working feverishly to try and restore power so we can get those stations back working. Again, it is going to be one of those situations where people are going to have to exercise patience as we and (the power company) have a large area to cover with service.”

The American Red Cross of Northeast Tennessee opened a shelter at the Kingsport Civic Auditorium on Friday evening.

More than a dozen motorists who’d been stranded on Interstate 26 or Interstate 81 spent the night at the shelter, volunteer Ron Blevins said.

“They all left (Saturday) morning,” Blevins said. “Law enforcement gave them rides back out to their vehicles.”

At about 2 p.m. Saturday there were 17 people at the shelter, Blevins said — most from area homes that were without power, water or both.

Blevins said most of the people at the shelter Saturday were brought there by emergency medical response services.

Sullivan County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Jerry Fleenor said volunteer fire departments and rescue squads across the county had been running calls nonstop since the snow began Friday afternoon.

“We’ve been extremely busy,” said Gary Mayes, Executive Director of Sullivan County Emergency Medical Services (EMS). “We’ve had a steady number of calls and responded to a lot of fender benders. And we’ve had people needing help in their homes and wanting to go to the emergency room. Sometimes people run out of medication or have medical equipment in the home that won’t function when they lose power. And we’ve responded to that type of call. ... If we can provide what they need and they can stay at home, that works, but if not, we take them either to the hospital or a shelter.”

Fleenor said emergency responders also try to help people without power or water go to a friend, relative or neighbor’s house if that’s an option.

“This is the worst snow we’ve had in several years,” Fleenor said. “It seems to have caught a lot of people off guard. ... They either didn’t hear it was coming or they didn’t believe it was coming. If we’re going to have to help someone move because they don’t have power, we’re trying to do that during daylight hours.”

A representative with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office said most of the primary routes had been scraped by snowplows, and crews had removed a majority of trees and other fallen debris from roadways.

Most residential areas should have at least one clearing by snow removal done by Saturday afternoon or evening, the representative said.

Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Blountville resumed a regular schedule of operation on Saturday after the heavy snow bumped flights Friday.

“While the Airport terminal and runways remained open for business as usual during the evening, some carriers canceled flights due to the weather,” says Melissa Thomas, director of Marketing and Air Service Development. “We are encouraging passengers with travel plans today to confirm their flights by checking with their specific carriers, either by 1-800 customer service numbers or on the carrier’s Web site.”

Times-News writers Matthew Lane, Hank Hayes and J.H. Osborne contributed to this story.

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