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Warm shelter opens after power knocked outPublished February 9, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
Above: A Red Cross warming center was opened Tuesday in Hot Springs at the First United Methodist Church Family Life Center after freezing rain knocked out power to area residents. The center was accepting anyone who needed a respite from the subfreezing temperatures gripping the state.
A convoy of 15 utility bucket trucks, interspersed with pickups carrying crews of linemen, made their way Wednesday morning through the ice-covered trees along U.S. 70 to Hot Springs.
The vehicles, from Chattanooga, Tenn., turned into the Entergy Arkansas regional facility east of Hot Springs to pick up
their assignments for helping to get the power back on for some 12,000 residents in Garland and Montgomery counties who were in the dark after rain, subfreezing temperatures and an ice storm.
On Tuesday evening, Hot Springs Police Chief David Flory issued a statement asking city residents to stay home and off the streets.
“Streets in the city are wet at this time, but as the temperature changes overnight, the streets will likely freeze,” Flory said. “If you don’t have to get out, we ask that you please stay home.”
City and county road crews sanded the streets during the storm and afterward, and streets were clear by Wednesday morning.
In addition, the power outages were affecting traffic lights, said Terry Payne, Hot Springs public information director.
Payne said the storm took down six large trees in the city. One, on Quapaw Avenue, fell on a van. Authorities said the vehicle was a total loss. Trees also became entangled in power lines, knocking out electricity to neighborhoods and threatening to bring lines down into the streets.
Emergency agencies met with the Red Cross and opened a warming shelter, starting Tuesday night, at the First United Methodist Church Family Life Center, at Orange and Pratt streets.
“We had a meeting with city leadership, the fire department and police,” said Jason Scott with the Red Cross in Garland County.
“We will make the decision to keep the shelter open day by day as we go on. There are about 6,000 houses without power in the area today,” he said Wednesday.
Jackie Campbell, who had volunteered to man the warming station Wednesday at the church’s Fellowship Hall, said only three people were at the center the first night.
“That’s usual,” she said. “People without power feel they can tough it out that first night. Then by the end of the second day, folks are thinking about a hot meal and a warmer place to sleep.”
Campbell, who is from Bauxite and is the Red Cross disaster-team leader for Saline County, said three people had already checked into the shelter asking to stay Wednesday night. She said she expected that some elderly people who had no power in their homes would be brought to the shelter during the day.
“I worked at the Saline County shelter last year at Bishop Park in Bryant,” she said. “I remember one family that had not used their fireplace in a long time, and when they started a fire to warm up, the house caught fire.”
The shelter had cots set up for 25 people, but Campbell said more cots could be added if needed.
John Cobb, 53, of Hot Springs, checked into the shelter Wednesday morning. He said his home had burned, and he had been staying in temporary housing.
“I certainly never dreamed of being homeless during winter,” Cobb said. “This is probably the most comfortable and caring place to be for me tonight.”
After a power outage in the area two weeks ago, Greg Asbell, regional manager of customer service for Entergy Arkansas, said that restoring power in very cold weather is not just a matter of reconnecting the downed wires.
“We have to navigate high-load demands, in addition to any weather-related damage to the equipment,” he said. “It also requires a different restoration process to guard against extended outages for even larger groups of customers.”
Asbell said that rather than turning on an entire power line after it is restored, crews bring one section online at a time.
“While the process can be frustrating, it protects the grid,” he said.
Hot Springs Animal Services was one of the locations that lost power on Tuesday afternoon.
Payne said generators were activated that provide heat to the shelter’s kennel area, although the offices were still without power. She said the animal shelter remained open to the public for adoptions.
The ice and freezing rain left more than 700 homes in the Garland County section of Hot Springs Village without power, according to an announcement by the Property Owners’ Association in the Village.
The Coronado Community Center, the Ponce de Leon Center and the Coronado Fitness Center were closed Tuesday, and all of the Village golf courses were closed early in the week.
As in Hot Springs, authorities urged Villagers to remain at home. Lt. Ricky Middleton of the Hot Springs Village Police Department said traffic was light, and there were few traffic mishaps by Wednesday.
By Thursday morning, the number of power outages in Garland county was down to around 1,100 homes, according to information on Entergy’s website.
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or email@example.com.