February 13, 2014
Johnny and Evelyn McLaughlin figured there would be no mail delivery to their home along Washington Street. The roads were, in two words, a mess.
But the couple, along with their 8-year-old daughter, Yasmeen, walked to the far end of town to the Rockingham Post Office on Caroline Street to retrieve a package Evelyn said she just had to have.
The post master, McLaughlin said, “”said I could pick it up.”
McLaughlin said the family had plans to be out of town on Friday and wanted to have the package before leaving.
Across Richmond County, though, the receipt of packages wasn’t tops on everyone’s minds. More than 3,000 Richmond County residents were without power as 1 p.m. Thursday and officials predicted the situation would get worse before it gets better.
Across the region, Duke Energy Progress utility reported more than 185,000 customers without power due to heavy snowfall topped by a thick coating of ice.
There are 2,373 Duke Energy Progress customers without power in Richmond County plus another 672 Pee Dee Electric customers.
Residents indicated outages began late Wednesday evening, a few hours after the snowfall transitioned into sleet.
The number out outages, confirmed Duke Energy Progress spokesperson Jennifer Jabon, “does seem to be going up, especially as (another) weather front is going” through the area.
“Right now our focus is on implementing our storm response plan,” said Jabon, who indicated preparation began days earlier.
Jabon said the utility has approximately 3,400 field workers in the weather with a priority of “quickly and safely restoring power to customers.”
The National Weather Service as a Winter Storm Warning in effect for the Richmond County area until 6 p.m. Thursday. What seems to be a light mist in downtown Rockingham is actually more freezing rain — it’s 31 degrees. That is expected to diminish soon, but areas of snow will develop across the area by noon and continue through the afternoon hours.
Additional ice accumulation should average around 1/10th of an inch or less. New snowfall could total up to 5 inches.
Roads are dangerous.
Traffic Wednesday afternoon on U.S. Route 220 was brought to a near standstill. The N.C. Highway Patrol requested support from Superior Cranes and used that company’s equipment to help free stranded tractor-trailers.
Several residents in Rockingham and Ellerbe abandoned the idea of using their regular road vehicles and instead opted for their all-terrain vehicles.
Meanwhile, Richmond County sheriff’s deputies already patrolled the roadways and knocked on the doors of elderly residents for welfare checks. As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, no emergencies had been found, one deputy indicated.
By 1 p.m. Thursday, the main roads, including Fayetteville Road and Washington Street, were clear but the majority of side and rural roads quite impassable.
The shelter established at Richmond Senior High School off U.S. Route 1 and Washington Street remains open. The effort is a joint one between Richmond County government, Richmond County Schools, the Department of Social Services and the American Red Cross.
Authorities said pets are allowed so long as they are crated and the owner brings updated vaccination information to the shelter for each pet. For more information or for a ride to the shelter, call 910-417-4948. Only a few residents are using the shelter as of early Thursday afternoon, said Donna Wright, director of emergency services for Richmond County.
“We’re going to keep it open until this event passes,” Wright said.
Wright begged residents to stay off the roads.
“Don’t go out unless it’s an absolute emergency,” she said.