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SW Va. crews clearing snow, stranded cars from roadways

Steve Igo • Jan 18, 2013 at 10:44 AM

WISE — Southwest Virginia, particularly the higher elevation communities, literally plowed through the process on Friday of digging out from the effects of Thursday’s storm that dumped as much as a foot or more of snow across many areas.

Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Michelle Earl said crews and contractors in Southwest Virginia had made progress clearing primary roadways that had been clogged by snow and ice Thursday night.

By Friday evening, Earl said U.S. Route 23 in Scott and Wise counties had been mostly cleared, although several patches of snow and ice remained.

While interstates and most primary routes have been cleared, Earl said many secondary roads in both Scott and Wise counties — especially those without ample sunlight — were still waiting to be cleared.

“As soon as we get all the primary routes clear, we’ll move on to the secondary routes,” Earl said. “Those roads numbered 600 and up have to be in good order first before we can do that.”

Earl advised motorists in Southwest Virginia to avoid unnecessary travel on snow-covered secondary roads for the next few days.

“If anyone can help it, especially if you’re uncomfortable driving in snow, make every effort to stay home,” Earl said. “Our goal is to get all the secondary roads 48 hours after the snow passes, but if we have issues with black ice on a primary, we’ll take care of that.

“It’s just a balancing act until we can get through the cold temperatures and snow.”

Besides snow and ice, VDOT road crews, with the assistance of local sheriff’s offices and all available towing services, were clearing stranded vehicles from major transportation arteries through the region such as U.S. Route 23 and U.S. Route 58 through Wise County.

“Our (primary routes) are passable at least. Yesterday, they were impassable. Very treacherous,” a Wise County Central Dispatch spokeswoman said early Friday. Removing stranded vehicles was one of the main tasks for emergency responders, she said.

“We’re trying to get owners located and vehicles towed, and telling owners where their cars have been towed,” she said. “It’s a madhouse. There are icy spots everywhere.”

A city of Norton Police Department spokeswoman said city road crews were “being worked diligently” early Friday clearing streets and back streets of the heavy, wet snow that began to hammer the region beginning at around 1 p.m. and lasting until after 5 p.m.

Compounding the effects of a storm dubbed Iago was the rain and sleet that preceded the snow, creating icy road surfaces underneath the heavy snow accumulations.

VDOT snowplow crews worked throughout the night into Friday on 12-hour shifts. VDOT’s 4 a.m. update warned that primary routes in Scott, Lee, Russell, Washington, Tazewell, Buchanan and Dickenson counties had scattered snow and ice patches while many secondary routes remained snow covered and slick.

The agency’s 4 a.m. update reported main roads in Wise County remained snow covered and slick, and secondary routes in Wise County “are hazardous and unnecessary travel is not recommended.” The town of Wise and surrounding areas received up to a foot of snow.

The majority of roads in Bland, Smyth, Grayson and Wythe counties were snow covered and hazardous according to the early Friday road conditions update.

I-81 in Wythe County was snow covered and hazardous and the agency at 4 a.m. Friday was advising motorists to postpone travel in that area until conditions improved.

Virginia’s stretch of I-77 leading into West Virginia was slammed. I-77 as of 4 a.m. Friday in Bland County was blocked in some areas while crews worked to remove tractor-trailers blocking both lanes of the interstate in either direction.

By 10 a.m., VDOT reported a blockage at southbound mile marker 54 in Bland County had been cleared.

Stuck trucks and snarled traffic became common during the height of Thursday’s storm in Wise County, particularly along the longer, steeper grades of the Powell Valley Overlook, Indian Creek Mountain and Pound Gap stretches of U.S. Route 23 — or from Big Stone Gap north to Norton, Wise, Pound and on toward the Kentucky border — and stretches of U.S. Route 58 from Norton to Coeburn and St. Paul.

Power outages were also a problem on Thursday, with downed trees and power lines caused by the heavy snow leaving more than 108,000 residents without power as of Friday morning. Old Dominion Power Co., a wing of Kentucky Utilities, serves some 30,000 customers in Wise, Lee, Scott, Russell, Scott and Dickenson counties, with the largest customer base in Wise County.

Power outages were spotty but affected areas of Wise County, including customers in outlying areas around the town of Wise such as the Tacoma Mountain area for roughly four hours Thursday evening.

By 11 a.m. Friday, ODP’s outage map indicated just one customer out of Lee County’s total 7,211 customers without power, and only four of Russell County’s total 1,997 customer base.

Times-News staff writer Wes Bunch contributed to this report.

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