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Winter storm in 1994 paralyzes Hancock

Historical Feature

By Sonya L. Dixon, Hancock Clarion Reporter

This photo shows a pickup heading toward Hawesville on US 60 (Kelly Heights subdivision on the right). Photo by Donn Wimmer


They say crises really pulls a community together and that is just what happened throughout Hancock County after it was covered by 16 inches of snow Sunday night in 1994. Thanks to a county-wide effort many were sheltered from the cold, while others received needed medications and necessities.

While many were left stranded in their homes, those able to brave the weather worked diligently to help others. Volunteers with four-wheel drive vehicles went into action helping the Hancock County Disaster and Emergency Services personnel evacuate some citizens and deliver medicine, heating fuels and food to those snowed in. Baby formula and milk were even taken to waiting mothers and children.

Disaster center set up

A disaster team assembled at the Hawesville Volunteer Fire Department and began fielding calls from across the county. Many were stranded without needed medications. Others were without electricity and heat.

Many were left without food and other necessities such as heating fuel. Much of the delivering was done by volunteers.

According to Hancock County Disaster and Emergency Services Director Mike Carroll, most of those evacuated and transported were young mothers and children and elderly citizens.

No electricity coupled with dropping temperatures made for a dangerous situation for many Hancock Countians.

Much of the county was without electricity beginning Sunday. Most power was reactivated by Monday, but some homes were still powerless even Tuesday. No electricity meant no heat for many.

Shelters established

Emergency shelters were established at the Hawesville United Methodist Church, the Lewisport Community Center and at South Hancock Elementary, explained Deputy Disaster and Emergency Services Director and Hawesville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Rick Montague.

Those without heat were transported either to the shelters or to the homes of relatives. Much of the work was done by volunteers using their own personal four-wheel drive vehicles. Montague and Judge-Executive Ralph Boling noted their appreciation for such aid and human spirit.

Five families in all were given shelter at the Hawesville church. Two families stayed at the shelter for the night. Two were taken to the homes of relatives in Daviess County. The remaining three families were taken to shelters in Daviess County.

Hancock County Disaster and Emergency Services Director Mike Carrol, right, and Deputy Director Rick Montague man phones at an emergency center established at the Hawesville Volunteer Fire Department. The center fielded calls beginning Sunday night. Both men worked long hours answering every call for food, assistance, shelter, fuel and medications.

Everyone pitched in

Firefighters and volunteers assumed many emergency duties while the Hawesville Volunteer Fire Department Women’s Auxiliary prepared food for the weary travelers displaced citizens and emergency personnel.

Montague explained that the team of emergency personnel would keep answering calls “as long as there is a need”.

“It’s been unbelievable,” he said of the number of volunteers who have helped in the relief efforts. They braved treacherous road conditions and plummeting temperatures to help their fellow man. “Everybody pitched in,” he explained.

“We couldn’t have done it without the volunteers.” He himself had been on the scene since Sunday night. The workers were alternating their sleeping breaks to assure the phone lines would be manned at all times.

Weather conditions forced ambulances to be escorted by grater trucks to assure they would reach their destination. The Hawesville Fire Department’s ambulance was without tire chains for a while. Once they were acquired, transportation was made easier.

Emergency Services Director Mike Carroll oversaw the crisis operations. “We’ll operate as long as we have to,” he agreed.

He added that a Kentucky National Guard vehicle had taken medicine to a dialysis patient within Hancock County. The emergency team had also requested, according to Carroll, that the guard help transport and evacuate families without electricity or heat as well.

Judge-Executive Ralph Boling’s main concern was assuring that all homes had power. The fact that some were without the needed power lead him to declare a state of emergency. The loss of power coupled with the road conditions made for a dangerous combination.

Lewisport Fire Chief Wayne Hodskins explained that workers there were helping transport those without heat as well. The crews were kept warm with “killer chili” provided by P.J. Froehlich, Wayne added.

Chief Montague explained that few, if any, accidents were reported because many had heeded repeated warnings to avoid unnecessary travel at all costs. The roads were treacherous for emergency vehicles much less the average driver.

Dispatchers have worked overtime to field calls. Panky Lou Boutcher explained that numerous calls have poured in asking about the road conditions.

She noted that the office has no information concerning the conditions. They do advise citizens to stay off the roads unless necessary. “We’re really busy,” she said. Boutcher added laughing, “It’s been a wild madhouse here.”

Closings, cancellations

Local schools shut down due to the weather. Many businesses were unable to open as well. Groceries began doing a booming business selling such staples as milk and bread.

Snow shovels, de-icer, gloves and rock salt were hot items at hardware and grocery stores as Hancock Countians tried to dig their way out of the snow dumped upon them by Mother Nature. The extreme cold made many call it quits while others decided not even to attempt to brave the weather.

The weather forced many cancellations and rescheduling. A blood drive planned Thursday, January 20 from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. at the Hancock County Middle School was cancelled. The regularly planned monthly meetings of the Lewisport City Council and the Hancock County Board of Education were rescheduled as well. The council will meet next Thursday, January 27 at 7 p.m.

The snow meant sledding and snowball fights for children, while adults were content to enjoy the warmth of being inside. The cancellation of school for a few days was an invitation for many, although even the bravest weren’t willing to tackle the roadway or the low temperatures.

Workers stay on to keep industries running

The snow not only slowed travelers, but area industries as well. While were snowed in at their homes, some employees found themselves stuck at work. In- bound and outbound deliveries were cut to a minimum

Some Willamette Industries employees were snowed in Monday night. Many had been there between 24 and 36 hours by Tuesday, explained Dick Wilson, Plant Manager. He said that the paper mill provided cots and blankets for some while others stayed at the Riverview Motel outside of Hawesville. Employees alternated to assure the plant could keep running. Those with four-wheel drive vehicles brought some workers home and picked up others. “We have a group of wonderful employees here, they really pull together,” the plant manager said.

Wilson noted that many homes in the county were without electricity, causing some con- cern by workers for their families. They wanted to be home with their families maintaining their heat supplies and keeping their house safe, Wilson said.

Others stranded also

The story was much the same at other plants in the county. Some Southwire Rod & Cable Mill workers found themselves stranded at the plant Monday night also. Plant Manager Wayne Edge explained that the facility kept operating by alternating the staff that were able to reach the mill. A sleeping area was pro- vided and employees simply kept rotating to help man the facility. A total of only five or six were able to work on Monday.

The Southwire employees “toughed it out,” Edge said. Those who owned four-wheel drive vehicles brought food to those stranded, while others “sacked out in the training room”

Few make it in to American Olean

American Olean Resources Manager Ed Winn explained that only one-forth of the plant’s workforce was able to make it to work on Monday. Deliveries were cut to a minimum as well.

One semi-tractor trailer was able to leave Monday and a couple on Tuesday. He hoped that operations would return to normal by Friday. “It’s a mess,” he said of the heavy snowfall and travel.

NSA Plant Manager Eddie Adams explained that many employees were unable to reach the plant as well. However, those already at the facility were willing to stay and “cover” for those unable to trudge through the snow.

Many were at the plant for as many as 36 hours, Adams explained, working three shifts with rest breaks sandwiched in.

Transporting products from the area plants and raw materials to them is difficult due to the large amount of snow dumped on Kentucky Sunday night.

Willamette Plant Manager Dick Wilson explained that the facility was concerned about running out of raw materials and space to store their finished products. “If we can hang on for a few days, we’ll be all right,” Wilson said.

Many truck drivers, knowing that the state highways have been closed by an executive or- der by the Governor of Kentucky, are not willing to even attempt a delivery of pickup form most plants.

Deliveries, operations

Neil Thomas, Commonwealth Aluminum Vice President and General Manager of Operations, explained that the plant was “virtually stopped dead in the water Monday” because employees were unable to make it to the plant.

A few pieces of machinery are up and running now that workers have braved the weather to get there. Getting raw materials to the plant is difficult and very little has come in, Thomas said.

A few trucks have been loaded with finished products and he is hopeful that Kentucky Governor Brereton Jones will lift the ban on use of highways so that they will be able to receive needed aluminum and scrap and to send out the finished aluminum.

NSA Plant Manager Eddie Adams explained that operations at the plant were back to normal. The snow didn’t impact their production significantly. Enough raw materials were on hand to keep the plant rolling.

However outbound deliveries were cut to a minimum, he said. This was hurting some customers who kept a low inventory of aluminum, Adams said.

Workers were doing everything possible to supply those customers in dire need of the metal, Adams said. Propane gas was brought in to help keep production rolling with de- creased gas supplies by area gas companies.

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