Originally created 01/25/00

Wintry weather brings accidents closures to Augusta area



Pam Tucker braced early Monday for a day of heavy rains.

Instead, she got a day of snow -- and accompanying headaches.

"It is pretty, but I hate snow," said Columbia County's emergency services director.

Throughout the Augusta area, 2 to 3 inches of snow accumulated by 5 p.m. Monday, closing schools and businesses early and clogging roads.

In Columbia County, 40 traffic accidents were reported between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. They included a multicar pileup on Washington Road near Greenbrier High School.

"The roads are in bad shape," said Nick Crawford, Columbia County's construction and maintenance director. "There have been an awful lot of accidents, fender benders and sliding off the road. It is a mess out here."

The storm wasn't as severe as Augusta's 14-inch snowfall of February 1973, according to the Southeast Regional Climatology Center.

Monday's snowfall, however, was enough to prompt cancellation of night classes at Augusta State University, school spokeswoman Kathy Schofe said. Morning classes were scheduled to resume at 11 a.m. today.

Schools in McCormick, Saluda and Edgefield counties closed early Monday, although schools in Aiken County remained open.

Local governments -- from McDuffie County to Edgefield County -- also closed early. South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges excused state employees at noon in Saluda, Edgefield and McCormick counties.

University of South Carolina Aiken and Aiken Technical College released students and faculty Monday afternoon.

Court proceedings in Richmond and Columbia counties are canceled for today, Augusta District Attorney Danny Craig said late Monday.

Columbia County schools officials sent students home at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

"We've got a lot of bridges with ice," Associate Superintendent Charles Nagle said.

And with temperatures expected in the low 20s Monday night and this morning, school officials did not believe bus drivers would be able to handle some roads safely, Mr. Nagle said.

Several school buses had difficulty Monday afternoon. One bus left the pavement on Mill Branch Road just off Lewiston Road. Another bus -- carrying about 10 pupils -- found itself stuck on Autumn Trail and couldn't make it up a hill. There were no injuries reported in either incident.

Meanwhile, Augusta Public Transit stopped bus service at 3 p.m. after drivers reported ice patches on some streets. Transit officials said they would check early today before deciding when to resume regular schedules.

Riders may call (706) 821-1721 to check on bus service for today. If the system is running, employees should report after 5 a.m.

The Richmond County Sheriff's Department used six 4-wheel-drive vehicles Monday night for patrols because of road conditions and had other heavy vehicles from Army reservists ready if needed, said sheriff's Maj. Richard Weaver.

Highways in Richmond County were passable during Monday's rush hour, but officials kept a close eye on all roads, Maj. Weaver said. There were reports of icing on River Watch Parkway and Interstate 20. Minor wrecks were reported in Augusta.

The decision to distribute sand on potentially icy roads would come once the snow stops, which was predicted for midnight Monday. Then authorities planned to evaluate the situation, said David Dlugolenski, Richmond County Emergency Management Agency director.

"We have four crews on standby (Monday night)," he said. "They're waiting by the phone and the trucks are loaded up and ready to go."

In North Augusta, the South Carolina Department of Transportation sanded and salted icy bridges Monday night, said Lt. Tim Pearson of the North Augusta Department of Public Safety.

Columbia County had five road crews working with the Georgia Department of Transportation to keep ice off bridges.

By late Monday, Mrs. Tucker had begun looking at the winter storm's effect power lines.

"If this keeps up and temperature start dropping, we could either have some icing on the lines or people sliding into power poles and having some isolated areas without power," she said.

In rural counties surrounding Augusta, most residents still had power late Monday.

"We have been fortunate so far and haven't had any problems," said Mike Eady, Jefferson Energy Cooperative's manager of public information and economic development. His utility covers mostly rural areas in 11 Georgia counties.

"We are keeping our fingers crossed," he said.

While Georgia Power Co. reported sporadic electricity outages Monday, most problems occurred 24 hours earlier.

"On Sunday, approximately 200 customers in the Lincolnton and Washington areas experienced outages yesterday and another 25 in Taliaferro County, however power was restored to all customers by the end of the day," said Georgia Power spokeswoman Nathalie Harts.

An estimated 100,000 Georgians were still without power Monday from a weekend ice storm.

About 3,000 Georgia Power Co. workers have toiled almost around the clock since the storm hit late Saturday. Yet 75,000 Georgia Power customers -- most of them in the metropolitan Atlanta area -- still had no electricity Monday afternoon. And another 21,000 customers of electric membership cooperatives were without service.

The effort to restore power was hampered by fallen trees and limbs that still blocked some streets and by the fact that the outages were so widely scattered. In some neighborhoods, one street had power and the next was dark.

Snow flurries hit the state again Monday.

Information from Staff Writers Peggy Ussery, Melissa Hall and Ashlee Griggs and The Associated Press was used in this article.

ReachJason B. Smith, Mark Mathis and Chasiti Kirkland at (706) 724-0851 or newsroom@augustachronicle.com.