Agencies slowly restoring power to Putnam County

Friday, February 4, 2011

GREENCASTLE -- The ice storm may be over, but the fight against the ice itself remains.

Local power, transportation and emergency crews have been fighting the effects of the storm since Monday night, and some of the work will continue into the weekend.

The worst problem for many residents has been power outages resulting from ice on trees and power lines.

Locally, the majority of outages were for Duke customers, with 7,400 customers affected in the Greencastle service area.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, that number was down to 103, according to

"We hope to have the majority, if not all, power restored by noon (Friday)," Bahr said. "We continue to work around the clock."

As of Thursday afternoon, the only other company reporting a significant number of outages in Putnam County was Parke County REMC. As of mid-afternoon Thursday, manager of marketing and communications Carolyn Kilby estimated 200 of the cooperative's remaining 300 outages to be in the Reelsville area.

An important factor in both companies' response to the storm has been help from outside the area.

"We have over 200 linemen in the area today, plus the additional tree crews and assessors. We've got a small army," Bahr said.

Normally, Greencastle has three or four crews and a couple of servicemen dedicated to the Greencastle area.

In the Indiana district, though, Duke has brought in outside contractors as well as employees from as far away as the Carolinas and Alabama. Additionally, as storm cleanup is completed in Ohio and Kentucky, some of those crews have come to Indiana.

"As we clean up Greencastle and other locations throughout our territory, we continue to relocate our crews to the most affected areas," Bahr said.

Likewise, Parke County REMC has been assisted by Jasper and White County REMCs and Electricom.

Power outages aren't the only problems, though. The county remained on a level 2 travel advisory Thursday, which requests that citizens limit travel on county roads to essential travel only. This is mainly because ice on roads, coupled with low temperatures, is difficult to battle.

Putnam County Highway crews spent Tuesday and Wednesday attempting to clear the main roads in and out of cities and towns. On Thursday, the effort turned county-wide.

"Now we're concentrating on trying to get as many roads as we can and hopefully get them all done (Thursday and Friday) -- blacktops and gravel," county highway co-supervisor Jim Smith said. "We're using calcium and sand right now. Salt has a tendency to melt the top, and then when it refreezes, it's a brand new ballgame. We're staying with calcium and sand. It doesn't freeze in the truck beds, and it actually stays on the ice itself so that it will melt as it goes down.

"It's a slow process," he added. "With 12 trucks, you can only move so much. Besides that, we're running chains on them, so that limits the speed."

In Greencastle, most city streets are fairly clear, but the fight to clear the entire grid remains.

Additionally, residents have been calling City Hall wanting to know when limb removal will begin. Mayor Sue Murray said this will be addressed at a later date.

"The folks who are responsible for that are the ones who are still out plowing the roads," Murray said. "I can only ask people to be patient."

The Greencastle Department of Public Works was still operating on 12-hour shifts as of Thursday afternoon. Once this stage passes, Murray said her next priority was getting the crews some rest and time home with their families.

The city also needs to determine where limbs can be disposed of.

"We still have people trying to cope with the direct aftermath of the storm," Murray said.

The mayor said city police and fire crews were on 12-hour shifts until Thursday morning, when they returned to regular shifts and staffing. She hoped the same would be true for public works by evening.

During the time of the long shifts, though, the Greencastle Fire Department remained busy. Between Monday and Thursday, GFD responded to 96 storm-related calls. By comparison, a normal month involves 30 to 40 regular calls.

The majority of the calls involved lines down, transformer problems, trees and limbs on lines and medical assists.

While the cleanup effort is going well so far, county emergency management director Kim Hyten said it will be ongoing.

"I would say the cleanup will still continue through the next three or four days," Hyten said.

The next big obstacle facing the county is getting roads cleared -- especially of ice-covered, overhanging branches -- so school buses can pass.

Hyten added that all emergency service and transportation departments should be in the process of estimating the cost of storm cleanup. The cost of all overtime, equipment and material may help the state in qualifying for federal emergency funds.

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