City unscathed after weekend winter storms

Sunday, January 14, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:20 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Columbia came through the first wave of the predicted weekend ice storms with passable roads and no power outages Saturday, and a second wave of wintry precipitation rolling across central Missouri appeared likely to also leave most of Columbia unscathed.

The storm caused widespread power outages in southwest Missouri and parts of St. Louis, but Columbia was spared during the storm’s first round.

As of 9 p.m. Saturday, there was only a minor power outage that affected houses at Sanford and Worley for about 10 minutes while a Columbia Water and Light crew replaced a transformer fuse. George Hessenbruch, electric distribution coordinator, said moisture from the storm may have aggravated existing cracks in the transformer.

As of 8 p.m., the Ashland Police Department and the Columbia Regional Airport Safety officers were reporting sleet had changed to freezing rain.

“If you look at the weather map, we’re on the very northern border of the warning area,” Hessenbruch said. “Keep your fingers crossed. We might make it through the night without any problems.”

But the way the weather is, Hessenbruch said, things could change quickly.

Hessenbruch said Columbia crews were on standby to assist municipal areas near Kansas City and Springfield, where 70 percent of households were without power and 1 1/2 inches of ice had accumulated on power lines and trees. But he said crews would probably not go out on mutual aid calls until Monday or Tuesday if the storm has left the Columbia area by then. Through the Missouri Association of Municipal Utilities, Columbia Water and Light linemen will travel to storm-struck areas when help is requested as part of the mutual aid agreement.

Lee Ardry, operations manager for Boone Electric Cooperative, said the co-op had not received a single call about a power outage by 4 p.m. Saturday. “The sleet helps a lot — quite a bit, really,” he said. “It doesn’t stick to the lines like (freezing) rain does.”

He said 25 workers were standing by in case the front expected to move through later Saturday became destructive.

The co-op serves more than 24,000 customers in an area from Moberly south to Harrisburg and from the Missouri River to Callaway County.

One serious accident took place during Friday night’s storm: a two-truck crash Friday on eastbound Interstate 70 that closed the road for slightly over two hours. The crash occurred when a semi tractor-trailer jack-knifed and another semi tractor-trailer sheared off the left side of the trailer and crushed the cab, Columbia Police Sgt. Ken Gregory said.

One of the truck drivers, whose name had not been released, was taken to an area hospital with life-threatening injuries, police said.

Traffic on I-70 was backed up from the crash site at the Highway 63 overpass to Stadium Boulevard. Traffic was diverted at Range Line Street.

In Columbia, driving was dangerous but possible on Saturday. Mary Ellen Lea, spokeswoman for the Public Works Department, said city trucks started spreading a salt-cinder mix on primary and secondary roads Friday afternoon and made another pass starting at 4 a.m. Saturday.

Gale Blomenkamp, Boone County Fire Protection District division chief, said that there were few accidents overnight Friday and that it seemed most motorists had heeded officials’ advice to stay home.

An accident at the connector for Interstate 70 and Highway 63 sent a semi tractor-trailer driver, Gary S. Olson, of Vinemount, Ala., to the emergency room with head injuries and bruises to the body that were not life-threatening. The accident occurred around 8:37 p.m. when a semi tractor-trailer driven by Pal Nirmaljit, of Woodside, N.Y., jackknifed in the eastbound lane of I-70, coming to a rest underneath the Highway 63 underpass, according to a Columbia Police Department news release.

Olson was unable to stop in time, and both semi tractor-trailer were towed away with heavy damage, the release said. Nirmaljit was not hurt.

Gov. Matt Blunt declared a state of emergency across Missouri on Saturday morning, activating the Missouri National Guard and putting the Disaster Medical Assistance Team on standby. Nearly 200,000 households were already without power from the storm that iced power lines and trees and hit the Springfield and St. Louis areas hard.

AmerenUE reported more than 100,000 homes were without power in St. Louis and 70 distribution feeder circuits were disabled. Each circuit normally serves up to 1,500 customers.

Missourian reporters Liana Cecil, Jemimah Noonoo, Alex Cooney and Adam Wisneski contributed to this report.

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