By mid-afternoon Sunday, about 18,000 residents in Jefferson County and about 4,000 in St. Lawrence County were without power in what National Grid has called the worst ice storm to hit the north country in 15 years.
Its the largest crew weve had out there since 1998, said Karen Young, a media representative for National Grid, referring to the 1,600 National Grid employees currently on the scene working to restore power.
During the infamous January 1998 storm, between 3 and 5 inches of ice coated the north county and, according to the Weather Channel, an estimated 500,000 people across the Northeast were without electricity some for weeks.
According to the National Weather Service, an estimated 1 inch of ice coated Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties Saturday.
We were prepared, Ms. Young said. Im sure the workers are working as hard as possible to restore power to customers.
But the storm isnt over just yet. An additional 1/10 inch is forecast to fall over the area this afternoon, and an additional 1/10 this evening, bringing the storm total closer to 1½ inches. Reports said the St. Lawrence Valley could receive 2 inches.
Local and state authorities were quick to act. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared states of emergency in both Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties Saturday night, and travel advisories were issued by their respective sheriffs offices.
The states of emergency, which went into effect at 5 p.m. in St. Lawrence County and 6 p.m. in Jefferson County, barred non-emergency travel countywide.
Local states of emergency also were declared in the towns of Lyme and Cape Vincent.
In Jefferson County, a hotline was established Saturday night by Jefferson County Fire and Emergency Management Department. The non-emergency hotline is designed for those who need information on the location of shelters, any active evacuation plans and how to receive aid from the Red Cross, as well as other helpful information. The number is (315) 786-6940.
From the moment the hotline was operational at approximately 6:45 p.m., Emergency Management said, the phone was ringing off the hook. According to a liaison for the department, there had been 16 calls to the hotline seeking information. The department is going to a full staff at 5 a.m. today to continue the effort.
To convey information quickly, the department has been directing people to its Facebook page http://wdt.me/R5u6Fy where information on travel advisories, states of emergency and weather conditions is being updated. According to the liaison, the page had more than 25,000 hits Saturday.
Residents also are encouraged to follow the #Jeffeoc hashtag for the latest information.
According to the Red Cross, Heuvelton Central School was being used as an emergency shelter Saturday night.
The Alexandria Bay fire hall also was operating as a shelter. As of 9:30 p.m., about a dozen people were at the hall.
Our power is sporadic, Fire Chief David E. VanBrocklin said. Lines and trees are going down all over.
National Grid said it was hoping to restore power to all of Jefferson County by 6 p.m., but as of 7:30 p.m. Saturday, nearly 7,200 Jefferson County residents still were without power.
Ms. Young said National Grid hoped to have power restored to St. Lawrence County by 8:30 p.m. Saturday. As of 8 p.m., roughly 1,400 customers remained without power.
Lewis County appeared to have missed the worst of the storm, and had about 200 customers without power Sunday afternoon.
But Lewis County, as well as the rest of Central and Northern New York, remained under a flood watch until 10 p.m. Sunday. The ice storm warning currently in effect in Jefferson, Lewis and Northern and Southwestern St. Lawrence counties expires at 11 p.m. Sunday.
Throughout the storm, authorities urge the public to be safe. A media release issued by the Jefferson County fire and emergency officials stressed the importance of minimizing travel and staying indoors if possible. As of midafternoon Saturday, the Watertown Police Department had responded to seven motor vehicle accidents in the city. Snowy or icy conditions were present in six, and freezing rain directly was responsible for one.