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Winter storm effects linger

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GREENFIELD — As the remnants of the winter storm began to melt away Friday and Hancock County residents, road crews and businesses began returning to normal, schools continued to be shuttered.

Local administrators say they were hoping to get students back into the classroom this week, but the weather would not cooperate.

An inch of snow fell Thursday night, and that dusting on top of the existing hardpack dashed hopes for a return to class on Friday.

The cancellation of classes was the capper for a week that began with temperatures of 10 below zero and ended with weather that was 50 degrees warmer. Mail delivery ground to a halt for as long as three days, and businesses struggled to stay open – or to open at all. This weekend, the major weather worry will be flooding, as rain mixed with melting snow is expected to cause problems.

Thursday night’s relatively minor 1-inch snowfall was still enough to extend the streak of school closures to five consecutive days – an unprecedented number in at least the past decade for county schools.

Southern Hancock officials determined Thursday afternoon the roads were still too bad for buses.

“Some of those country roads give me cause for concern,” SH superintendent Jim Halik said. “Some of the area cul-de-sacs are not cleared out enough for buses to get through.”   

With students already out for the first four days of the week, Halik said they might as well take Friday off with hopes of starting fresh on Monday.

“I’d rather be safe than sorry and keep kids and staff home rather than have to worry about them on the roads,” he said.

While G-C Superintendent Linda Gellert initially said G-C schools would be back in session Friday on a two-hour delay, by 7 p.m. Thursday, the school’s website announced Friday classes would be canceled because of the new snow.

Once students return to class Monday, however, educators plan to make up for lost time.

County educators say they have two snow days built in to their calendars with Martin Luther King Jr. and President’s Day, but students will now use those days to make up time lost earlier this week.

Thanks to a two-day waiver granted by the state earlier this week and two snow days included in the school calendar, Halik said his students will only have to make up one day at the end of the school year.

Gellert said G-C students will make up any extra snow days during the second week of a two-week spring break. Gellert admits adding classes during a scheduled spring break is never popular and results in poor attendance, but it’s either that or do what SH officials say they will do and add days to the end of the school year.

While students might have been enjoying another day off, letter carriers were just beginning to catch up with a backlog of deliveries that actually started in Indianapolis.

“The first couple of days, we didn’t receive any trucks from Indianapolis bringing the mail, so that obviously put us behind,” said Greenfield Postmaster Mike Johnson.

Once the mail finally started flowing, the local carriers began doing what they could. But it was difficult slogging through the middle of the week.

As carriers ran some routes multiple times, they encountered the same problems as everyone else attempting to navigate the county’s frozen landscape and experienced slide-offs and issues with accessibility.

“No one was immune,” Johnson said.

Johnson expected deliveries to begin catching up on Friday and “getting back to normal” today.

Local businesses were getting back in the swing as well as the week drew to a close, and it seemed everyone was hit no matter how big the store.

“The lack of mobility and traffic really took its toll,” said Home Depot operations manager Trora Gregory. “We were open for people that needed to make repairs, and we were glad we were here for them.”

Downtown businesses were also digging out at week’s end.

“From what I’ve seen in downtown, things are slowly getting back open and back to normal,” said David Dellacca, Greenfield Main Street Inc. board president, adding that it was cooperation between merchants that helped everyone weather the storm.

“It was very much a group effort,” he said. “People pulled together to help each other.”

Though the storm slowed business down for Jack’s Donuts, manager Kenny Watkins said the customers that were able to get a hot cup of coffee were grateful.

“Some people were out plowing, and we were the only place open they could get coffee and get warm,” Watkins said.

For state, city and county road crews, however, Friday was simply business as usual in trying to clear streets, roads and highways.

“I’m real happy with everybody and everything that happened,” said Greenfield street commissioner Jim Hahn, who was still behind the wheel of a plow truck Friday afternoon, five days after the first snow starting falling last Sunday.

“We had already gotten 6 inches halfway through the storm, and I knew we were in trouble,” he said.

City equipment was in play for 48 hours straight at the height of the storm, and three outside contractors were hired on to help remove the snow.

“I’ve never hired outside contractors for 23 years,” Hahn said, “but I’m glad that I did.”

In addition to bringing on extra contractors for the extraordinary circumstances, Hahn said he also learned to pace his crews for a massive effort.

“Now I’m concerned about flooding and getting all the drains uncovered from the snow … and potholes,” Hahn said.

In the county, most of the main roads were in good shape as crews continued to knock ice and hardpack off pavement Friday afternoon, said Gary Pool, county highway engineer.

“I think we’ve got it beat,” Pool said. “I’m real happy with the way the guys performed.”

Pool said his department will debrief on the storm Monday; however, he already sees ways to improve.

“The biggest thing we learned was when to attack the ice sheet,” he said. “We had a good plan and attacked it, but we may have shot it just a bit early,” Pool said.

Crews began dropping chemicals on the snowpack Wednesday, anticipating warmer temperatures; however, the temperature didn’t rise quite as far as expected and the work chunked the icepack, causing pothole-like conditions.

“I apologize for that,” he said.

Ice was still an issue on Interstate 70 Friday as well.

“It’s calming down, but there’s still a little bit of ice depending on where you are,” said Harry Maginity, public information officer for the Indiana Department of Transportation’s Greenfield district.

“It’s going to continue to improve. With the temps getting warmer and warmer, things are getting better and better. The major roads are pushed back pretty good,” Maginity said.

As in most places, conditions began to improve once temperatures rose sufficiently to allow road treatments to begin working.

State crews used brine, salt laced with magnesium chloride, sand and, in some cases, limestone aggregate that is finer and sharper than sand that can be ground into the snowpack by traffic.

“We threw everything at it, but there’s a place where Mother Nature wins,” Maginity said.

Like their local counterparts, state road crews worked around the clock with drivers on 12-hour shifts and trucks running nonstop.

Behind the scenes, mechanics also worked continuously to keep the machinery running as trucks and attachments froze, broke, and in one case, turned over.

Overall, however, the area dealt well with the first winter blast of 2014, residents and officials say.

“We had no major accidents, no major injuries and nobody killed, and that’s a success right there.”

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