Smithfield weathered last week’s winter storm with relative ease, thanks to diligent road crews, cautious residents and a benevolent community.
Town of Smithfield workers began preparing for precipitation almost a full day in advance and had the town’s streets coated with 4,500 gallons brine before the first snow and sleet began to fall.
Once the storm began, Public Works Director Lenny Branch said, his game plan was to stay ahead of the accumulation. At 2 a.m. Tuesday, crews began plowing primary streets and laying down salt, sand and additional brine. By 1 p.m., Branch said, the town had made enough progress to begin work on secondary streets.
“It’s a slow process, but with the sun being out now, it’s helping out significantly,” Branch said Tuesday afternoon.
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Johnston County also got help from the N.C. Department of Transportation, which deployed 30 employees in 21 trucks and five graders to scrape the interstates, highways and state-maintained roads. The DOT also hired 10 outside contractors who together laid down 967 tons of salt across Johnston.
Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency Monday and urged motorists to stay off the roads. Branch said Smithfield residents seem to have taken the governor’s advice, and as of Tuesday, he had seen no auto accidents in town.
On Monday afternoon, many residents made their own preparations as they swarmed grocery stores.
The rush came as no surprise to Bruce Edwards, manager of Edwards IGA in Smithfield, who said he saw the forecast and told his supplier to bring all the bread he could get.
But even with the additional inventory and several employees working to restock the store, the bread shelves were nearly empty by 4 p.m. Monday.
Customers scoop up milk, sandwich fixings and soups whenever winter weather is in the forecast, and Edwards said his business benefits regardless of whether the predictions of ice and snow actually pan out.
“I ought to give Greg Fishel $100 every now and then to call for snow,” Edwards said with a chuckle, referring to the WRAL-TV meteorologist
At Food Lion on West Market Street, manager Joshua Hale said he had expected to sell about $25,000 worth of merchandise on Monday. But that turned out to be an underestimation. Sales were already up to $30,000 as rush hour began, and Hale said he thought the store would break a record before day’s end.
With schools closed and three children to take care of, Eva Allen of Wilson’s Mills filled her cart with ingredients to make a pot of chili for the snow day. “It’s something they can just snack on all day long,” she said.
Johnston County schools closed for students and teachers on Tuesday and for students on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, which were optional workdays for teachers. School calendars show that traditional-calendar students will make up two of the days on April 9-10, year-round students on March 20 and April 10 and Early and Middle College students on April 2 and May 22. However, the Johnston County Board of Education ultimately decides when to schedule make-up days.
“As soon as that decision is made, we will be sending that information out,” said schools spokeswoman Tracey Peedin Jones.
On Tuesday, students Zach Parrish, 14, Lyndsy Parrish, 10, and Payton Cooper, 7, were enjoying one of their two days out of school, using body boards to sled down a driveway on Booker Dairy Road in Smithfield.
Julie Cooper, who was chaperoning the kids outside her home, said typically it’s hard for her to get off work for snow days. However, her employer, BB&T, gave her and her colleagues the day off, she said.
“I’m out today and don’t have to take vacation time, so that’s great,” Cooper said. “Tomorrow could be a different story.”
For those struggling to afford groceries or find a place to spend the night, the Smithfield Rescue Mission teamed up with local churches to ensure that no one went hungry or had to sleep outside.
The wintry forecast prompted the shelter to institute its “white flag” extreme weather policy. Under the policy, said spokeswoman Tiffany Olsen, the shelter forgoes some of the formalities – such as entrance interviews and thorough rule explanations – that are normally in place.
“We really just tell people that as long as they behave, they can stay,” Olsen said.
The winter weather drew five additional men, bringing the total to 20, and six women. Local churches were on standby to provide room in case the separate men’s and women’s shelters filled up.
For those in need who preferred not to spend the night, Olsen said the mission handed out blankets and served warm meals. It also fielded calls from people looking for help with their heating bills or equipment.
As always, chapel services and Bible studies were available for anyone in search of nourishment and comfort of the spiritual variety.
“We don’t require that people be Christians, but the way we put it is we’re trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” Olsen said.
Separately, Johnston County Emergency Services opened storm shelters at Clayton and Smithfield-Selma high schools on Monday. One family of six stayed at the Clayton shelter overnight Monday because their home’s heating system wasn’t working, said Kim Robertson, director of Emergency Services. A homeless man stayed at the Smithfield shelter, she said.
“As for the family with the children, we are trying to work out a situation for them to get their heat fixed,” Robertson said.
On Wednesday, because of the forecast for frigid temperatures, First Baptist Church in Smithfield opened its Ministry Center as a warming shelter for people without heat or shelter.