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Cancellations, traffic accidents mark winter storm's arrival

Wednesday, January 6, 2010 | 1:24 a.m. CST; updated 11:01 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Rescue crews responded to an accident along I-70 near the Lake of the Woods exit Wednesday evening. As snow moved into the Columbia area Wednesday afternoon, traffic across town was quickly bogged down by numerous accidents.

COLUMBIA — Columbia Public Schools canceled evening activities and Thursday's classes, churches called off services and choir rehearsals, and snow plows began scraping streets as the city dug in Wednesday for a major winter storm.

Snow began falling at about 2 p.m., and by rush hour, the slick streets were already causing multiple minor accidents around town.

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As of 5:30 p.m., numerous fender-benders had been reported in the city, but none produced life-threatening injuries, Columbia Fire Department spokesman Steven Sapp said.

Chief Gale Blomenkamp of the Boone County Fire Protection District said most accidents occurred at low speed, and a few required transports to hospitals.

Wednesday evening, Columbia Public School officials announced that schools would be closed on Thursday. Earlier, school officials had canceled most of Wednesday's after-school activities.

The snow was just the latest entry on the list of winter weather events this week.

Below-zero temperatures settled into the city during the first part of the week and are predicted to return this weekend.

Today's forecast calls for blustery winds and drifting snow. Friday through Sunday, wind chill readings are expected to be well below zero.

On Wednesday, the city's Public Works Department dispatched all 17 snowplows to tackle priority routes, said Mary Ellen Lea, the department's operations manager.

If more than 4 inches of snow fell, the plows were to move into subdivisions.

The temperatures are so cold that salt is not really effective, Lea said.

The city canceled residential trash and recycling collections for Friday because of the predictions of wind chill temperatures of minus 30 degrees.

Commercial trash will still be collected on schedule, and the landfill will remain open.

In the last six days, the city crews have handled 150 calls about frozen pipes or lack of water, said Connie Kacprowicz, a city spokeswoman.

At the same time, crews replaced 40 frozen meters, the majority in unheated buildings, she said.

The city is running four crews during the day and two crews at night, she said.

Keith Lanig, a driver for Rick’s Taxi, said he had frozen pipes this week at his Columbia home.

“The water had frozen up at my house, and I unthawed it with a blow dryer," he said.  "It took me three hours to melt it.”

With temperatures staying well below freezing, even people who have never had a pipe freeze could have problems, David Hedrick said in news release from MU Extension.

Pipes in exterior walls are at greater risk of freezing, said Hedrick, the director of MU Extension’s Fire and Rescue Training Institute.

Opening cabinets under sinks allows heated indoor air to warm the pipes, according to Hedrick. A shielded conventional light bulb near pipes can also help prevent freezing.

If pipes freeze, thaw them slowly using a hair dryer or light bulb. The objective is to melt the ice at the same rate it froze.

"Never use an open flame to thaw pipes because it can ignite combustible material in the area," he said.

Sara Cox, Tova Diamond, Lischen Reeves and Katherine Oriez contributed to this story.


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