Lights, calm returning after ice storm, but some dangers remain

Dec 24, 2013

The lights are coming back on in Jefferson County after the ice storm left most residents in the dark for some period over the weekend. National Grid says it expects to restore power to nearly all customers by midnight tonight.

Sixteen-hundred field workers from as far away as New Jersey and the Ohio Valley are helping to make that happen. Despite the progress, the utility says some customers could be in the dark through Christmas.

Melanie Littlejohn is a spokeswoman for National Grid. She said workers are wearing good winter gear and rotating shifts so they can get enough sleep to stay alert. And utility customers, too, need to stay mindful of safety.

“We want to underscore: treat all lines as hazardous and as live wires. And do not, do not under any circumstance go near those wires, but please call that in,” she said.

Littlejohn said Clayton and Gouverneur have been hit hardest by outages.

While many long-time residents have been recalling the 1998 ice storm, she said the scale of damage then was in a different ballpark. Downed poles meant it took much longer to restore power. This time, it’s mostly lines snapped by falling tree limbs.

During a midday press conference yesterday, Jefferson County’s emergency management chief Joe Plummer said all roads in Watertown had reopened. He downgraded a travel advisory – from no unnecessary travel, to use extreme caution. “Secondary roads are still hard packed snow and ice, very slippery, with two to three inches of hard pack on those. The salt is just not touching them very well right now,” he said.

Plummer said drivers should leave a wide berth between their vehicles and utility and road crews.

Other hazards remain during the storm cleanup. Some people have gotten hurt while trying to clear downed tree limbs from their yards and roofs. Others still on generator power need to be careful to use their equipment safely. And as everything melts, Plummer said: watch where you’re standing. “As you go to the northern part of the county, there’s still ice on the wires. There’s still ice on the trees. Be cognizant of where you are; the stuff will fall at any time.”

Shelters set up for those without heat took in a handful of residents during the storm. Only eight people used Watertown’s shelter Saturday night, while up to 30 took advantage of the one in Dexter, Plummer said.

County legislature chairwomen Carolyn Fitzpatrick praised the many different agencies involved in the emergency response, saying their work helped to stave off any fatalities and keep injury rates low.