FAIRFIELD COUNTY — The Midlands got hit this week by one of the worst winter storms in recent memory — even worse than the 2004 event that left some 200,000 homes without power — prompting Gov. Nikki Haley to declare a state of emergency and to urge South Carolinians to “hunker down.”
“Just to remind all of our citizens: Please hunker down and stay home,” Haley said Wednesday during a teleconference. “Now is not the time to get out. We want you to prepare for power outages. Do not use candles. This is not the time to use candles. And also we ask you to bring your pets inside, check on your elderly neighbors.”
Haley’s state of emergency declaration on Tuesday triggered the state emergency operation center and put the S.C. National Guard on active duty. She said the request Wednesday for a federal declaration of emergency was “really more precautionary” in case the state needs anything to supplement what is already on hand.
“We are making sure we are ahead of the curve,” she said.
During a teleconference Wednesday, Haley said the storm’s aftermath will be worse than what the state experienced in 2004 when 200,000 homes lost power, some for as long as a week.
She urged South Carolinians to “hunker down and stay home” and asked motorists to stay off roads and out of the way of first responders.
More than 4,600 utilities workers were spread across the state on Wednesday and more than 1,500 state Department of Transportation maintenance workers were working rotating 12-hour shifts applying salt and other anti-icing/deicing materials, according to the SCDOT website.
The state had 4,400 tons of road salt delivered, which Haley said would be enough to get through Friday. More than 350 state officers – including troopers and State Law Enforcement Division and Department of Natural Resources agents – were patrolling roads in 12 hour shifts.
The state’s electric cooperatives — including Fairfield County Electric Cooperative — were prepared for the potential of widespread power outages.
“This is the kind of scenario you never want to see,” said Todd Carter, vice president of loss control and training at The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. “Ice storms of this magnitude can cause extensive damage to our system. Unfortunately, it looks like a large number of homes are probably going to lose power in the coming days.”
In advance of the storm, 22 line workers from Kentucky arrived in South Carolina on Wednesday to assist with power restoration efforts. Storm coordinators, as part of a mutual aid agreement among co-ops, participated in a conference call Wednesday morning to determine whether additional reinforcements are needed.
“If this storm produces an inch of ice, we’re going to need as much help as we can get,” said Carter said Wednesday. “Right now, we have almost 300 linemen on stand-by to help. We’ll draw crews from Mississippi, Florida, as well as more linemen from Kentucky. We’ll decide Wednesday morning whether we have to call them in.”
Carter said the public needs to be prepared to be without power for an extended period.
“There’s potential for widespread damage,” Carter said. “If the predictions hold up, we’ll be facing a monumental job in the upcoming days.”
Restoring power after an ice storm can be challenging as travel conditions are poor. Before power can be restored, crews first assess damage and determine what crews, equipment and supplies will be needed to make repairs. Because of this, customers could see damage assessors patrolling their neighborhoods before crews arrive to begin work.
Crews prioritize work to ensure the largest number of customers is restored as quickly as possible. Essential services such as hospitals and emergency responders have priority.