It wasn’t exactly back to normal around Sampson County Thursday, but it was getting there, despite mounds of snow and patchy ice that all but gridlocked the area Wednesday, with schools closed yet again, government offices and businesses shutting doors early and bread and milk virtually impossible to find at the few places that remained open.
Sampson Community College remained closed Thursday but will open Friday for staff only on a two-hour delay. The public schools, closed again Thursday, split on their decision for Friday, with Clinton City returning on a two-hour delay and Sampson County Schools closed again for students.
On Thursday, Clinton’s public work crews were out scraping sidewalks and plowing parking lots and Department of Transportation crews were finally making it to the secondary roads for clearing as temperatures tried to climb into the low 40s before snow began to fall once again. It was lighter than Wednesday but still making its own impression on those getting pretty tired of a winter event that started by dumping around 5 inches of snow Tuesday than offered another dousing Wednesday before the sucker punch of sleet and freezing rain later that evening.
All in all, local transportation and public safety officials said, Sampson fared pretty well with the winter event that brought from 5 to 8 inches of snow across the county, not quite a tenth inch of ice and spotty power outages, most of which had been restored by mid-day Thursday.
“This is way better than we expected,” said Lin Reynolds, DOT district engineer in Sampson. “We didn’t get nearly the ice they were predicting, which made things much easier than we had at one time expected.”
Reynolds said the interstate and all the primary roads were clear, except for the occasional icy patch, and road crews were working to clear the county’s secondary roads throughout the day and night, something being made easier, he said, by the slow drizzle that had been coming down and temperatures which hit 42 degrees by noon Thursday.
“It was the same thing last night (Wednesday). It was warmer than they once thought and we didn’t get the ice that was expected, so we’ve seen no trees down and no power line problems, thankfully. In fact, the snow was good enough that the day crew pushed it until 11 p.m. last night. It pushed really good.”
The snow and ice pushed so good, in fact, that Reynolds said Thursday morning it was virtually sliding off the roadways, making clearance that much easier.
“The secondary roads should be in fairly decent shape by tonight (Thursday) and good by tomorrow (Friday). There is likely to be some icy patches, but overall I think they’ll be good,” Reynolds said.
City manager Shawn Purvis was cautiously optimistic about Friday being a relatively normal day, predicting a possible two-hour delay but no more.
“What happens this afternoon (Thursday) will dictate the next response,” Purvis said.
City of Clinton employees who could safely travel returned to work at 10 a.m. Thursday, and Sampson County government offices reopened to the public at 1 p.m. The Emergency Operations Center, which has operated since Tuesday with limited staffing, closed at noon Thursday.
Sampson County government offices reopened to the public at 1 p.m. Thursday but called for another two-hour delay for Friday morning, citing the probablity of the refreezing of roads overnight. While public safety crews and other weather essential personnel remained vigilant throughout the storm, the county’s partially staffed Emergency Operations Center closed at noon Thursday.
Power outages were sporadic across the county through the evening Wednesday and into Thursday morning, but a dark downtown led city officials to call for a curfew that was enacted from 11 p.m. Wednesday until 6 a.m. Thursday.
Areas of Elizabeth, John, Lisbon and portions of Main Street and Southeast Boulevard went dark just before 8 p.m. Wednesday because of a transformer problem near U.S. 701, but power was restored within the hour.
Other power was a little slower to return, but in all, less than 2,500 Sampson residents were left in the dark for some period of time.
“Overall, we fared pretty good,” Sampson EMS director Ronald Bass said of the limited outages and the relatively quick restoration.
According to Cathy O’Dell, vice president of Member Services and Public Relations with South River Electric Membership Corporation, there were sporadic customer outages in their service area, with no more than 500 ever without power.
Four County crews, which service many in Sampson’s southern area, continued to work to restore power Thursday to approximately 5,653 members in parts of Bladen, Duplin, Pender and Sampson.
Duke Energy Progress, with over 17,000 customers in the county, had less than 400 customers in Sampson still without power by the Independent’s early deadline Thursday, with expectations of complete restoration later in the evening.
With temperatures at or below freezing across the area Wednesday night, residents took to Facebook to post a bevy of outages, many of them in the southern end of the county.
“And now the power’s out,” wrote one resident who lives on Rackley Road, just off N.C. 24.That power was later restored.Others in the Harrells area, posted their own sad news early in the evening detailing how once fluffy powder had turned into icicles hanging from tree limbs and awnings.
Among areas that were without power for some period of time were Turkey Highway where a reported 950 Duke Energy customers were home in the dark. A majority of southern Sampson, too, was experiencing power outages, including Harrells, Ivanhoe, Harrells and Parkersburg.