News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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January 7, 2014

Let the Thaw Begin: Travel status lowered to watch level

Travel status lowered to watch level; Terre Haute City, Vigo County government offices to be open today Classes to resume today at Rose-Hulman, Indiana State University; Saint Mary-of-the-Woods still closed

TERRE HAUTE — As winter’s blast begins to subside, government offices for both Vigo County and the city of Terre Haute will be open today, and classes are resuming at Indiana State University and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

However, St. Mary-of-the-Woods College will remain closed today, as roads to the campus “are still challenging” for drivers, said Dee Reed, executive director of college relations.

Vigo County officials on Tuesday lowered an alert to a watch status for motorists traveling on snow-packed and icy roads, advising only essential travel, such as to and from work or for emergencies. The alert previously was a warning status, the highest alert level, at which traffic can be restricted to emergency personnel.

Judith Anderson, president of the Vigo County Board of Commissioners, said that while county roadways will be open today, motorists should remain cautious.

“Per Vigo County Sheriff’s Department and Vigo County highway officials, the main roads will be mostly open [today],” Anderson said. “Lifting the road closure does not mean that all roads are clear. Please use common sense. If your road has been cleared and is passable, use it.”

“If not, you are traveling at your own risk,” Anderson said.

“It is going to take time to get to every road in the county. I understand that this is frustrating, when other roads are cleared and yours is not,” she said of county residents battling drifting snows.

“The Vigo County Highway Department has been working around the clock since Saturday. Not every road can be first, and they will get to [other] roads as soon as possible,” Anderson said.

The Indiana National Guard’s 181st Intelligence Wing on Saturday began providing assistance in Vigo and Putnam counties. In Vigo County, a military vehicle for the 81st Troop Command required its own rescue from a military Highway Assistance Team.

The military vehicle became stuck Monday near the intersection of Indiana 46 and Margaret Avenue. The first attempt to dislodge the vehicle Monday was unsuccessful, but the vehicle was dislodged Tuesday, said Lt. Col Frank Howard.

Clark Cottom, chief deputy of the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department, said the department on Tuesday responded to “20 to 25 slide offs and we had another 12 accidents, the majority of which were property damage accidents.”

In addition, a semi jackknifed about 3:30 p.m. in the northbound lane of U.S. 41 at Harlan Road, Cottom said.

“This is all a testimony to how dangerous the roads have been over the past 24 hours,” Cottom said. “A lot of vehicles cannot get through this type of snow, especially at crossovers or at intersections,” he said.

Indiana State Police Sgt. Joe Watts said from midnight until 5 p.m. Tuesday, state police report 17 vehicle slide-offs, seven property damage accidents and 24 vehicles in need of assistance, such as from a flat tire or a jelled fuel line.

“We had at least six jackknifed vehicles, which are included in the slide-offs,” Watts said.

One jackknifed truck closed the eastbound lane of Interstate 70 at the 12-mile marker from 1:45 p.m. until 3 p.m. Tuesday. Traffic was routed to Indiana 46 and U.S. 40 east to get around the blockage, Watts said.

The Indiana Department of Transportation reported Tuesday most state roads were open to motorists.

 “The majority of roads are now passable after a long night [Monday] by INDOT plow crews battling drifting snow. But extreme icy conditions persist on all roads due to the subzero temperatures,” said Debbie Calder, INDOT spokeswoman.

Road salt is less effective in subzero temperatures, Calder said, and ice should be expected on all roads through today, when temperatures are expected to become more favorable for chemical melting agents and plows.

Duke Energy, which had 8,046 customers without power in Vigo County and the Wabash Valley, had just 99 customers remaining to restore power to as of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Rick Burger, district manager for Duke Energy, said power to all customers was to be restored by 6 p.m. Tuesday.

“Our customers have been patient and understanding,” Burger said.

WIN Energy REMC had 60 customers still needing to have power restored as of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, with those customers expected to have power restored by mid to late Tuesday evening, said Leslie Beard, manager of marketing and communications for WIN Energy. Of those 60, there were 21 customers in Vigo County and 39 in Sullivan County, Beard said.

The Illinois State Police advised that travel remained dangerous Tuesday with snow packed drifts and icy patches.

“Motorists traveling on Interstate 57 continue to slide off the roadway into the median and ditches,” Trooper Tracy Lillard said in a ISP release. “State routes, U.S. routes, county highways and township roads are experiencing drifting snow, snow-packed drifts and icy patches.

Police suggest having a jack and lug wrench, as well as bottled water, non-perishable food, extra warm clothes, boots, hats and gloves, ice scraper, flashlight with fresh batteries, first-aid kit, jumper cables, blanket/sleeping bag, a bright-colored cloth to tie on a vehicle antennae as a flag if stranded and an old cell phone with car charger. A deactivated phone will activate when 911 is dialed, Lillard said in a release.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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