UNION COUNTY — Students returned to classes late Thursday morning after being out of school for nearly two days because of a winter storm that also caused more than 40 automobile accidents over a two-day period.
The Union County School District dismissed classes Tuesday morning ahead of an approaching storm system that brought snow, ice and below freezing temperatures that afternoon. The storm dropped an inch of snow on the county and the below freezing temperatures that coated county streets, roads and highway with sheets of ice that made driving hazardous.
It was because of the hazardous road conditions produced by the storm system that Union County’s schools remained closed on Wednesday and reopened on a two-hour delay Thursday morning.
Union County Sheriff David Taylor said Thursday that his office responded to 42 automobile accidents throughout the county beginning Tuesday night and continuing into Wednesday. Taylor said that the accidents were mainly caused by a combination of motorists driving too fast and not knowing the conditions of the road. He said that four of the accidents involved jackknifed 18-wheelers including two on S.C. 49, one on U.S. 176 near Mt. Vernon Estates, and one on S.C. 72. Of those, Taylor said the accident on S.C. 72 and one of the accidents on S.C. 49 forced those sections of the highways to be closed to traffic until the vehicles involved could be removed from the scene.
In a few of the accidents, those involved were injuring requiring them to be transported to Wallace Thomson Hospital for treatment, but Taylor said none of the injuries were serious or life-threatening. He said that in most cases the accidents resulted in only minor damage to the vehicles and no injuries to the motorists.
Taylor said his office worked closely with the S.C. Highway Patrol in the handling of the accident scenes.
“The highway patrol did an excellent job in responding,” Taylor said. “We helped them with traffic control and seeing to it people were safe and warm.”
Warmth was especially important as temperatures fell below freezing Tuesday and remained there throughout Wednesday and into Thursday morning. Temperatures dropped into the teens both Tuesday and Wednesday nights and were still in the lower teens Thursday morning before gradually beginning to give way to a warming trend that the National Weather Service stated would continue throughout the week before reaching 60 on Sunday.
The approach of the storm system lead to a coordinated effort by local officials to have all possible resources ready to respond to any emergencies that occurred during the storm. This included putting more emergency personnel on shift at 911 and more ambulances on call; preparing to open the Union County Recreation Department as an emergency shelter if needed; having food on hand for government and law enforcement personnel that might have to work through the storm; and winterizing medical and other emergency facilities so they could continue operating despite the weather.
Supervisor Tommy Sinclair said Thursday that for the most part the resources available for emergency response were not called upon on either Tuesday or Wednesday. Sinclair said the food on hand for government and law enforcement personnel was not used and “is now in a freezer.” He said that while it was available, no one called to use the recreation department for shelter.
Sinclair said the main responses to the storm involved dealing with the issues of ice on the road. He said that sand was put on the parking lots of Wallace Thomson Hospital, the nursing homes, fire departments, government facilities, and some industrial roads. In addition, Sinclair said that between 10 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, 911 received more than 20 reports of wrecks which the sheriff’s office responded to.
While there were a large number of wrecks, Sinclair said emergency responders were able to deal with them effectively and efficiently because the public heeded the advice of the sheriff’s office to stay off the roads as much as possible.
“I want to thank the people for their patience and tolerance in staying off the roads to the degree they did so that the response system was not unduly taxed,” Sinclair said.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, Ext. 14.