ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County officials declared a state of emergency mid-afternoon Tuesday and opened two emergency shelters as power outages are expected with an accumulation of heavy ice in the forecast.
Both Richmond Senior High School in Rockingham and Mineral Springs Elementary School in Ellerbe opened at 5 p.m. Tuesday. At about 11 p.m. Tuesday, Donna Wright, director of emergency services, announced that the Ellerbe location would be closed so resources could be concentrated at the Rockingham shelter location. The shelter is established in coordination with the Richmond County Department of Social Services and Richmond County Schools. The goal is to provide shelter and food for Richmond County residents who are without heat.
County Commissioner Ken Robinette said that pets are allowed only at the high school location — and there, only cats, dogs and birds. All animals mus be transported in cages and have available vaccination records. Residents are responsible for providing food for their pets.
Donna Wright, emergency management coordinator, said everyone should bring bedding, flashlights, special medicines and foods, including foods for babies.
If transportation is needed, call the Emergency Management Office at 910-417-4948. Many disabled or elderly residents who live at home might require assistance in order to relocate to the reception areas. If help is needed, call 910-417-4948.
Individuals from the Marston or Hamlet areas should call that same number if transportation is needed.
Commuters and school bus drivers awoke Tuesday morning to find the winter storm that was to begin mid-afternoon had arrived several hours early. Still, the bulk of the storm has yet to hit. The National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning for Richmond County and the surrounding area from 9 a.m. Wednesday until 6 p.m. Thursday.
The updated forecast calls for light snow mixed with sleet to fall across central North Carolina Tuesday but is expected to taper. From the south, another storm will move north Wednesday morning before transitioning to sleet and freezing rain Wednesday afternoon into Wednesday night. Precipitation will gradually end, from west to east, during the day Thursday.
Up to two inches of snow is expected Tuesday afternoon and a “potentially significant” ice accumulation is expected Wednesday into Wednesday night.
Ahead of the storm, Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency in advance of winter storm Pax. The early-arrival of the storm had a near-immediate impact locally.
At 8:52 a.m, Richmond County Schools announced an early dismissal of 9:30 a.m. — less than than two hours after classes started. Hours later, classes were cancelled for Wednesday as well. Weather permitting, Saturday will be used as a makeup day for Wednesday’s cancelled classes. State law allows Tuesday to count as a full despite the early dismissal.
Though district officials declined to make anyone available for comment, Director of Public Relations Mallory Brown sent The Daily Journal an email and wrote that “due to the complicated nature of this weather pattern, our decision process can only occur one step at a time.”
“I can tell you, though, that the school system is working diligently to make the best decision for the students and staff of Richmond County Schools,” Brown wrote.
In such an instance, it’s next to impossible to please everyone. A quick glance at The Daily Journal’s Facebook page, which online readers were discussing the issue, makes that clear.
“I was smart enough to not go” into school, posted Russell Parker, “because really it should have been cancelled. You could just tell it was gonna happen.”
Parker indicated he felt it was best to stay home, but the very next reader, Mark Joplin, disagreed.
“I cannot believe school was let out,” Joplin posted. “If anything, buses are safer due to weight. What is more important, school or Chicken Little?”
Less than 45 minutes after Richmond County Schools called it a day, the city of Hamlet announced the postponement of the City Council meeting until 7 p.m. on Feb. 18. The Richmond County Planning and Zoning Board also canceled its scheduled public hearing. No makeup date has yet been announced.