News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

January 6, 2014

Arctic Blast 2014: Keep off the roads, stay warm, inside

INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Mike Pence repeated calls for Hoosiers to stay off snow-covered roads and remain at home, sheltering from dangerous sub-zero temperatures gripping much of the state, during a Monday news conference.

 “This is a very serious time in the life of our state — a very serious time for the communities in our state,” said Pence, who along with emergency officials conducted the briefing late this morning in a basement room of Statehouse. “We are still in the midst of a very dangerous winter storm.”

Schools in much of the state were closed Monday, when classes were to have resumed following the holiday break. Portions of several interstates remained closed because of wind gusts that made them hazardous. Another 22 state highways were closed.

As of Monday morning, about 46,500 households in Indiana were without power, and utilities were warning that it would take several days to get those homes back on line.

Officials urged residents to stay home for at least another day, and businesses to remain closed while the deep freeze continues.

Pence said people who heed those warnings minimize the potential damage to life and limb. As of Monday morning, only one traffic death had been attributed to Sunday’s snowfall, which reached 15 inches in the northern and central parts of the state.

A second death was attributed to weather Monday morning, when an Indianapolis woman had a heart attack while venturing into temperatures that were 15 degrees below zero.

While acknowledging the tragedy of both deaths, Pence said the toll could have been higher had residents ignored warnings, including those from the governor’s office that began going out last Friday.

“Our greatest natural resource in the state of Indiana is our common sense,” he said before adding an oft-repeated warning: “Hoosiers need to know, we’re not out of this yet.”

The combination of heavy snow, gusting winds and arctic temperatures nearly paralyzed much of the state. As of Monday morning, 52 counties had issued travel warnings, forbidding all but emergency vehicles from the roads. Another 27 counties declared disaster emergencies. Pence said that number would likely grow.

More than 300 state troopers have been working with nearly 250 National Guard members to rescue stranded motorists. They’ve received more than 2,000 calls for help since the storm hit, and they continue to respond to residents who need transportation to shelters that have been set up around the state.

Road crews have left a hard snow pack on most roads, instead of scraping down to pavement, because of the cold temperatures, said Department of Transportation head Karl Browning. Road salt only works when it’s about 20 degrees or warmer, he said, so the snow pack helps with traction, though it is still dangerous.

“It’s incredibly important today to ask people to please stay away from the roads if you can possibly do it,” Browning said at the news conference on Monday. “We are acutely aware of the amount of inconvenience to every citizen in the state. It’s not our objective to keep these roads closed; it’s our objective to keep these roads open.”

Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter repeated Pence’s call to stay off the roads, unless travel is urgent. He pleaded with motorists to not drive around barriers set up on closed roads.

“You endanger not only yourself, but those that might have to come help you,” he said.

State government offices were closed Monday, and Pence had yet to make a decision about when they will re-open. The General Assembly was to have opened Monday but delayed its session — tentatively until 3:30 p.m. today — because of the storm.

Maureen Hayden is the Indiana Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI, the parent company of the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden.

 

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