Firemen from the Versailles Volunteer Fire Department were on the job Tuesday night alerting motorists to downed power lines. Pictured above, Steven Franklin waves traffic through on US 421 in town as they route the traffic around lines that were down due to the icy conditions. Pictured below is the town of Versailles' sign encased in ice - pretty much the picture of the entire county on Wednesday morning, February 14.

Ice storm closes schools, businesses
Winter weather continues to pound area

Wanda English Burnett - Editor

Tree limbs and wires encased in ice took on a beautiful luster as the sun began to shine on Wednesday morning in the area. The beauty of the ice is mostly confined to those who do not have to get out and were not affected by loss of power or didn’t have a tree fall from the heavy weight of it.

The entire county was blanketed with ice followed by snow Tuesday night into Wednesday morning and for the second time in as many weeks, the commissioners declared Ripley County under a Level Two Snow Emergency.

By 6:30 p.m. Tuesday a Level One Snow Emergency had been declared due mostly to the ice causing trees and tree limbs to fall into roadways making travel hazardous, according to Commissioner President Robert Reiners. There were several downed power lines, and crews, along with fire departments and police, worked throughout the day and night. In a stretch of roadway on US 50 at the southern end of the county there were three state police cruisers within two miles alerting motorists of downs trees in the roadway.

Although Ben Sieverding, an instructor for the new Fire & Emergency Services program at the Southeastern Career Center, was not teaching school due to the weather, he was on the job. “We’ll probably be out all night,” he noted late Tuesday evening as he, along with many others from the Versailles Volunteer Fire Department, worked in the icy conditions.

Firemen across the county were out in force removing trees from power lines and roadways.
Ripley County Sheriff Tom Grills noted that his office was busy throughout the ordeal. “We’ve had several slide-offs, nothing serious,” he noted on Wednesday morning. He said a Level Two emergency means “stay home.” If you’re in one of the categories that have to be out (see related article) Sheriff Grills said, “Be careful and use good judgment.” He said he was out into the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday and didn’t have electric at his home near Batesville. “Our house was 38 degrees,” he commented.

Television stations for the tri-state area reported that 73,000 homes were without electric still on Wednesday morning. Barry Lauber, Director of Office Services for Southeastern Indiana REMC said power outages were widespread in the seven county area REMC serves including Ripley. Crews have been working throughout the night with re-enforcements coming in on Wednesday morning. “This may be the worst we’ve seen it,” Lauber noted, referring to the icy conditions that snapped numerous trees and downed hundreds of power lines throughout the county. On Wednesday morning at 10:00 a.m. there was still about a third of REMC’s customers without power.

Lauber noted that the restoration effort was difficult with the weather conditions on Tuesday evening. “The safety of our crews was another issue,” he noted. “Crews reported hearing the trees snapping all around them as they worked,” he said. About the time they thought they were making progress, the wind kicked up and “we lost ground,” Lauber told The Versailles Republican.

“We truly appreciate the assistance of law enforcement, fire departments and all of the 911 communication centers,” Lauber said. “People don’t quit working when there’s an emergency,” he continued. The power lines have the potential to be carrying high voltage that would be fatal if touched. Lauber said police and firemen stayed in the areas where the lines were down until their (REMC) crews could get there. “Sometimes they had a long wait,” he said.

To report power outages in Decatur County you can call 1-800-844-7362 or in Ripley County 1-800-737-4111 or 689-4111. “We had people manning the phones all night (Tuesday),” noted Lauber. DukeEnergy (formerly PSI) had crews working throughout the storm and have called for backup (120 crews) from the Carolinas.

County and state highway departments have kept busy throughout the winter storm clearing roadways and spreading salt and cinders. They have a lot of road to cover, but have been working around the clock to clean the roads as much as possible.

Ripley County Emergency Management Agency's Director Wayne Peace noted that his agency's emergency plan was initaited with 12 shelters set up across the county Tuesday evening. He said they give that information to the local radio station (WRBI 103.9) and then it's usually word of mouth to let people know. You can always call the EMA office at 689-0505 and someone will get back to you.
Peace noted with the cold temperatures, they want to make sure everyone is safe. EMA stays in constant contact with Homeland Security throughout events such as this major ice storm. "Everyone has a job to do and they do it," he commented. He said the 911 dispatchers were taking multiple calls Tuesday night and were "great to work with." He also said the ham radio operators are a great asset in inclement weather conditions. There are shelters available for those without electricity. Just call the above number or the dispatch center at 689-5555. "This county really comes together when something like this happens," Peace concluded.

With wind chill factors well below zero, emergency workers are concerned with residents trying to stay warm. Tuesday night the Red Cross Office on the square in Versailles was opened and three people stayed there. Area fire departments were open as well. If you have an emergency and need help you can listen to WRBI Radio for information on 103.9 or contact the sheriff’s office by calling 689-5555 (24 hours a day) or 689-5558 during business hours Monday through Friday. You can call the Ripley County Chapter of the Red Cross at 689-6308. Sandy Vanderbur, director of the Ripley County chapter noted they will get shelter for those without electricity. A shelter was set up initially at the Batesville United Methodist Church. Of course, you can always call 911 in an emergency.

Several industries and businesses, including doctors and dentists offices, were closed on Tuesday night and all schools were closed on both Tuesday and Wednesday in the county, due to weather conditions.
Jerry Gilpin of Versailles noted on Tuesday evening he believed this was the worst ice storm to hit Ripley County. “This is comparable or maybe worse than ones we used to get when I lived in Michigan,” he noted. Several pine trees at the Gilpin home off Tanglewood Road in Versailles were damaged from the heavy ice.

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