News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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January 6, 2014

Arctic Blast 2014: Public heating centers truly ‘a godsend’

TERRE HAUTE — For some who lost power Sunday, the warming shelter at Terre Haute South Vigo High School was a godsend.

The Wabash Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross opened the shelter about 9:30 p.m. Sunday at the request of the Vigo County Emergency Management Agency. “That’s what we’re here for,” said Nikki Wessley, Red Cross chapter executive.

Several neighborhoods had lost power, just as temperatures were plummeting. About 10 people spent the night, or part of the night, at the South Vigo shelter.

Officials also were concerned about stranded motorists who might not have the means to afford a hotel.

Red Cross provided meals and snacks, including breakfast donated by Terre Haute Regional Hospital and lunch donated by Buffalo Wild Wings.

Those who stayed at the shelter overnight slept on cots.

One man was especially grateful. He and his wife were rescued from their rural home, which had no power, by the Army National Guard. Electrical service to their home went out for the second time about 2:30 p.m. Sunday and the Guard got them and took them to the shelter about 11 p.m.

The experience “was eye-opening for me,” said the man, who asked not to be identified. “I truly appreciate the volunteer work as well as the hospitality of everyone who was trying to provide comfort for us by all means that they had.”

His Vigo County home is completely electric, and his car was stuck in the snow. The couple lives out-of-state but commutes here each week for his job.

The man said the assistance of others has motivated him to volunteer and become more charitable “because I know it is very much needed.”

The South Vigo shelter closed at 2 p.m. Monday, but the Red Cross planned to keep its main office at 700 S. Third St. open as a shelter for whoever needed it, Wessley said. At least two people were expected to stay at the Red Cross overnight, she said.

The National Guard performed other rescues in the community, as well.

About 30 Army and Air National Guardsmen worked out of Terre Haute to assist stranded motorists or those in homes without power. On Sunday, Gov. Mike Pence activated the Guard to assist with the winter storm response.

In Terre Haute, those assisting included the Army National Guard 438th Chemical Co. and the Air National Guard 181st Intelligence Wing, said Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Lowry, Army National Guard spokesman. The Guardsmen also assisted the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department in rescue efforts.

“We’re here to support local authorities,” Lowry said.

 Lowry was involved in one of the rescue missions Sunday night, a cooperative effort with the sheriff’s department. The Guardsman were deployed as Highway Assistance Teams.

“We had a call to pick up a couple in southern Vigo County. A tree branch had fallen on a power line and they had no heat or electricity. We took them to the South Vigo warming shelter,” he said.

The man was a retired military veteran and his wife was not feeling well, Lowry said. The Guardsmen and a county officer took two Humvees to get to the couple. “They were very appreciative and thankful we were able to assist them and get them to a warming shelter.”

 The rescue occurred late at night and conditions “were rough,” Lowry said. The team drove through blizzard conditions and rutted roads.

 The National Guard will remain deployed “until the governor says we’re no longer needed,” Lowry said.

The Highway Assistance Teams were involved in about 40 rescue efforts in a southern Indiana region that included New Albany, Scottsburg, Bloomington, Terre Haute and Evansville. About 190 Guardsmen assisted in that region, Lowry said.

Clark Cottom, chief deputy with the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department, said the department requested assistance from the National Guard even before the governor deployed them.

That assistance “was critical. We could not have provided service to dozens of people without their help,” Cottom said.

Road conditions became so bad Sunday night that not even sheriff’s department four-wheel drives could get through in some locations. “Guard units came out and pulled our four-wheel drives out,” Cottom said.

As of late Monday afternoon, several rural roads had heavy drifting of up to 4 and 5 feet, including Greencastle Road near Sandcut. At that location, a front-end loader will be needed to remove snow, Cottom said. “A traditional snow plow can’t push it.”

Drifting also created problems in the New Goshen area and in southern Vigo County, he said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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