Officials: County ‘very fortunate’ during storm

By Keith Strange

February 15, 2014

While back-to-back accidents kept them hopping during this year’s near-record snow storm, county emergency services officials say that when all is said and done Surry County was “very fortunate.”

“It seems that things worked out as good as they could,” said Emergency Services Director John Shelton. “Our only real issues were trying to keep the interstates and major highways clear during the storm.”

Shelton called the county’s major highways “treacherous” during the snowstorm.

“The problem was we’d have one accident and get it cleared, and then another one would occur right on top of it,” he said, noting that it’s been a long time since the county saw double-digit snow. “There was a tremendous amount of traffic on the interstates, and we had people stranded in different places.”

Shelton said those stuck vehicles presented challenges for rescuers.

“If a vehicle got stuck on the roadway and then a tractor trailer tried to get around it, he would jackknife,” he said. “It seemed to compound through the storm.

“There were a multitude of vehicle issues, so we tried to target the areas of most concern like the major highways and interstates,” Shelton added.

Emergency officials were assisted by members of the North Carolina National Guard, who patrolled the highways on Humvees throughout the storm.

“We sent the Humvees up and down the interstates and put a lot of our units on them as well,” he said, noting that rescuers passed out water and snacks to stranded motorists.

“We had 10 Humvees working with the highway patrol (Thursday) night on the interstates and helping to transport people to hospitals and dialysis centers.”

As of Friday morning, that number had been reduced to four Humvees.

“We’ll use them until we’re sure the rural roads can be accessed by county emergency personnel,” Shelton said.

One incident during the height of the storm has left rescuers scratching their heads, according to Shelton.

“Wednesday night, a four-wheeler was hit by a Ford Explorer from out of town driving down Interstate 74,” he said. “The person on the four-wheeler pulled out in front of the Explorer and they hit him in the rear. They got out and tried to assist the operator of the four-wheeler, but his friends came and helped him run from the scene. We have no idea who it was. We never did find him.”

Shelton said the county was “very fortunate” that there were no serious injuries throughout the storm.

According to the emergency services director, two shelters were open in the event residents needed a place to stay during the storm.

“We had a shelter at the Franklin Fire Department and a warming shelter at the Red Cross center on Westlake Drive and there were three other shelters on standby if needed,” he said. “But they weren’t busy at all. A few folks came in, one family with children stayed and the National Guardsmen stayed overnight.”

But he noted that the storm kept rescuers hopping just trying to keep the county’s major highways flowing smoothly.

“It was a long day and a long night,” Shelton conceded. “It was difficult, but we handled it as best we could. We haven’t had a lot of sleep, but we worked together as a team and came through it.”

Keith Strange can be reached at 336-719-1929 or via Twitter @strangereporter.