By JOHN KLINE firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — GOSHEN — The emergency has ended but the cleanup work continues.
A disaster emergency declaration put in place Sunday by Elkhart County officials in response to the severe winter storm that swept through the Goshen area over the weekend, was allowed to expire at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
In LaGrange County the emergency was downgraded from a warning Tuesday to a watch.
The move in Elkhart County follows a downgrading of the declaration’s initial emergency warning status to emergency watch status Monday evening. The first downgrade came after weather forecasters predicted the sub-zero temperatures and strong winds that forced the county to a near standstill over the weekend, would begin easing by this morning.
According to Michael Pennington, deputy emergency management director for Elkhart County, highway department crews were still hard at work clearing county roads of snow Tuesday with the goal of getting as many people back to their normal daily routines as possible.
“We’re working really hard on it right now, and we’re just hopeful we can keep as many people off the roadways as possible so we can continue to plow the roads and get everything opened up and moving again,” Pennington said from his office Tuesday afternoon. “We’re definitely working at it, but part of the problem we’re seeing now is that the roads get more icy as the snow gets packed down with people driving over them, so it makes things more dangerous and people aren’t always aware of that.”
Pennington noted that an emergency warning status — the highest level of local travel advisory — means that travel should be restricted to emergency management workers only. As such, most county residents were unable to return to work Monday due to the road restrictions, and both Elkhart County and Goshen government offices were closed, as were local schools.
No school again
Goshen schools remain closed today because many students can’t get to them.
“One of the main reasons school needed to be closed for Wednesday was due to the large number of sidewalks that have not been cleared yet,” was the Twitter statement posted by the corporation’s officials Tuesday afternoon “We are encouraging people to work with friends and neighbors to clear sidewalks so that our students can get to school safely. If you live near a walk-zone or hub gathering area, please do what you can to get these clear for safe passage to school on Thursday.”
Under Elkhart County’s emergency watch status, conditions are still considered threatening to the safety of the public. However, Pennington noted that during a watch, the restrictions are eased a bit with only essential travel, such as to and from work or in emergency situations, recommended.
“With a warning, the only people that should be out on the roads are emergency personnel,” Pennington said. “With a watch, it’s more of an advisory.”
While it has been years since the Elkhart County area has been faced with such a significant winter storm event, Pennington said he felt the county has done an admirable job of responding to the threat and its aftermath.
“I think we were pretty well prepared for anything it threw at us,” Pennington said. “We’ve got some resources in place to help us with these larger incidents like this, and I think we felt pretty good about how we responded. We were able to access resources and talk to the right people throughout the county to allow us to get the emergency declaration in place quickly and do the job that needed to be done.”
Pennington also had high praise for county residents.
“I think the majority of people understood the need for it once they got outside and realized the gravity of the situation,” Pennington said. “There were a few people who didn’t want to cooperate, but I think they were a very small percentage. I would say a majority of the people listened to us and trusted what we were saying. So, I think by and large we got a good response to that and it has worked out well to minimize injuries and reduce damage.”
While the original emergency declaration was scheduled to be in effect until 6 p.m. today, county officials lifted the emergency declaration at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Even with the lifting of the disaster emergency declaration, Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Capt. Jim Bradberry urged residents to continue to use caution when traveling on county roads.
“Motorists are advised that road conditions are improving. However, caution should be used as many of the roadways are covered in snow and ice,” Bradberry said Tuesday afternoon. “Drivers should allow extra time to reach their destinations, drive slowly and be prepared for areas that are limited to one lane due to blowing snow.”
Bradberry noted that Elkhart County Highway Department crews are continuing to clear roadways and subdivisions, and encouraged motorists to help plow drivers by driving cautiously, reducing their speeds and limiting their travel to essential tasks.
For his part, Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman Tuesday praised the Goshen Street Department employees for their quick and efficient cleanup of the city’s streets and alleyways.
“Right now I think the streets look pretty darn good in Goshen,” Kauffman said from his office Tuesday. “Not everything’s perfect of course, but I’ve seen a lot of real favorable responses on Facebook and things like that about people responding to how our street department did.”
But, Kauffman urged city residents to continue to be mindful of the needs of street cleanup crews by promptly digging out and moving their cars out of the roads and alleyways so the snow can be removed in a timely fashion. Making sure fire hydrants, sidewalks and catch basins are kept clear of snow should also be a priority, he said.
As for trash pickup within the city, Kauffman noted that the city’s trash contractor, Allied Waste, notified his office Tuesday of an additional delay in trash pickup due to the weather.
“The continued extreme low temperature and wind chill factor affects truck hydraulics and driver safety,” Kauffman said. “Monday’s route was to be picked up (Tuesday), but will be delayed until Wednesday.”
Kauffman also noted that Allied plans to run extra trucks where possible to chip away at the normal Tuesday route today.
“Residents who are normally serviced Tuesday through Friday should put their trash out one day later than normal,” Kauffman said. “As Allied Waste works to catch up, if it is not picked up on that day, it will be picked up the following day. Allied intends to be caught up by Saturday.”
Along those lines, Kauffman urged city residents to make sure their trash cans are accessible and cleared of snow in order to ensure trash pickup is as prompt and unhindered as possible.
“When the garbage truck eventually does pull up, if the trash barrel is covered in snow, they won’t be able to pull it out,” Kauffman said. “So I think people need to be mindful of that.”
Meteorologists Tuesday were predicting a high of 18 with mostly cloudy skies and a few afternoon snow flurries for today — a far cry from the sub-zero temperatures and wind chill factors of between -20 and -40 experienced in the area Monday and Tuesday.
Moving into tonight, snow flurries are expected early, with a change to partly cloudy skies late into the evening. Wind should be light and variable with a low near 4 degrees expected.