Chapel Hill News

Orange County digging out, driving away

Bolstered by the sun, public works crews hit Orange County’s roads early Friday morning to finish scraping away the snow.

With the main roads largely cleared, the plows turned to secondary streets and rural byways. Across southern Orange County, residents were busy digging out their cars. Chapel Hill officials said they would start towing cars this morning.

Chapel Hill Transit buses are running again, and the Chapel Hill Public Library is open, too, town officials said. However, residents should check before venturing out, since many programs have been cancelled through the weekend, officials said. There’s also the threat of black ice continuing through tonight, they said.

It was a different scene from Wednesday when many drivers decided walking was a better option for getting home. Orange County emergency services director Jim Groves said every major road and interstate was littered with cars.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt sat in traffic with dozens of others Wednesday afternoon on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard when a Chapel Hill Transit bus got stuck near the Police Department. The bus driver tried to break free, but got stuck again, he said. Some “brave souls” threaded a route around it, he said.

Along the way, he rescued a friend trying to walk from UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus to the Eubanks park-and-ride lot. The drive from downtown to Piney Mountain Road – roughly 2.5 miles – took almost two hours, he said.

Groves said one man was stranded overnight in his car Wednesday on Interstate 85 and was taken to UNC Hospitals for treatment of possible hypothermia. He was in good condition, Groves said.

With the Triangle shrouded in a blanket of snow and ice, many people spent their time swapping stories on social media sites of good Samaritans who stopped to help free their cars or give them a warm place to rest.

About three dozen people sought bathrooms and shelter Flyleaf Books on MLK Boulevard, co-owner Jamie Fiocco said. They closed early, but the staff was waiting out the storm. They let people in to get warm and use the bathroom, staying until 5, she said. Many drivers left cars in the parking lot, she said.

A box of samples from the maker of Magic Socks also came in handy, Fiocco said. Magic Socks and related products start small and expand to full size by absorbing water.

“Some kids needed gloves, so we gave out socks as gloves,” she said.

They also handed out washcloths and towels, Fiocco said. One little girl didn’t have a coat, and staff found one in the lost-and-found box, she said. The coat was a perfect fit, she said.

Kleinschmidt and Groves also praised emergency crews and law enforcement officers for their response.

Sheriff’s deputies and Chapel Hill and Carrboro police tirelessly searched for stranded motorists, marking each car they checked, he said. There weren’t any really bad wrecks but numerous fender-benders, police spokesmen said.

The storm “caught a lot of folks off guard,” Groves said.

The county’s ambulance fleet also had a tough time, he said. The department put senior paramedics in four-wheel-drive vehicles, so they could get to emergencies faster. The ambulances followed, if needed, to provide extra support and take people to the hospital, he said.

While 1,100 Duke Power customers were left without power Thursday in Orange and Durham counties, the utility company was reporting only one outage in Orange County and six in Durham County this morning.