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North country counties survey and begin to assess ice storm’s damage as recovery continues

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Things were winding down at the Jefferson County Emergency Management operations center Monday afternoon, where volunteers and county employees monitored an extended ice storm over the weekend and fielded calls from residents without power or heat.

Elsewhere in the county and across the north country, officials surveyed the damage caused by a storm that, if it did not quite match the intensity of its infamous 1998 counterpart, far outstripped it in terms of endurance.

“That was 24 versus 48 hours,” said Jefferson County Highway Superintendent James L. Lawrence Jr., who had spent the weekend working, keeping up with his crew — a team that kept the county’s roads as clear as possible amid the onslaught of freezing rain.

“It is unusual for this area,” Mr. Lawrence said. “We’re not used to having it rain between 20 and 25 degrees. It is unusual.”

Mr. Lawrence said that while it was too early to give an accurate accounting, he estimated that the cost of the storm response would only be about 30 percent of what it was in 1998, when costs to the Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. were projected to rise past $125 million.

Mr. Lawrence said that county workers focused first on keeping ice off the roads as best they could, then keeping driving lanes clear of brush and branches and finally keeping the county’s right of way along the road clear so that snowplows, icers and sanders could pass.

Even as the recovery begins, there is still a significant danger posed by tree branches that could fall under the weight of accumulated ice, Mr. Lawrence said.

One good indication of the odd nature of the storm is the amount of salt the county used.

“What we used this weekend would be equivalent to what we use during a normal winter,” Mr. Lawrence said.

Lewis county ‘Lucky’

Stanley E. Samsa, Lewis County deputy highway superintendent, said “light icing didn’t cause many problems through most of the county.”

The sole area needing attention was in the northernmost part of the county, in Harrisville.

“We sent a crew up there to clean up trees down near the road,” he said.

Lewis County Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, was one Harrisville resident without power.

“I give a lot of praise to our fire department,” he said. “They’ve been here 24/7 and checking on our senior citizens.”

Residents in senior citizen housing at Harrisville Courts were a great concern to Mr. Hathway.

“They have no back-up for heat,” he said. “The good news is, it didn’t get too cold overnight.”

Mr. Hathway is using the event to be better prepared in the future.

“I think we need to look at back-up generators for the senior citizen housing and back-ups for the medical center,” he said. “Hopefully, the governor and state can help out with that.”

The Harrisville Family Health Center housed medicine that required refrigeration.

The Harrisville Fire Department assisted by storing those medications.

Temporary shelter was also set up at the fire hall, and housed several people overnight.

James M. Martin, Lewis County Emergency Management director, said most of the power was restored by late Monday morning, though some village residents were still without power as of late afternoon.

In the works Monday afternoon was a Red Cross shelter at Harrisville School, for residents of outlying areas of St. Lawrence County, which anticipated extended outages, possibly until after Christmas, Mr. Martin said.

He estimated 1,000 homes were still without power in St. Lawrence County.

While most roads had been cleared Monday, Mr. Martin cautioned that some secondary roads were in need of debris removal and may have downed trees or wires until crews could get to them.

Perils persist

Canton Town Highway Supervisor Terry L. Billings said the weight of ice is gradually increasing stress on tree limbs; he’s concerned that if the wind picks up, more branches and power lines will go down.

“We’re still under a risk. If we get winds, it could change the whole scenario dramatically,” he said.

He said he’s “keeping his fingers crossed” until Thursday, when temperatures are predicted to climb into the low 30s, high enough to melt the ice.

“Overall, Canton is in very good shape compared to some of the other towns,” Mr. Billings said. “We’ve had some limbs down, but we haven’t had any large diameter trees down.”

Canton Village Superintendent Brien E. Hallahan said there were only a few downed scattered tree limbs in the village and crews will try to collect them after the holidays if they’re not busy clearing streets.

A notice about limb pick-up will be placed on the Canton website.

“There’s a few scattered branches here and there, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it could have been,” Mr. Hallahan said. “We will try to help people out, but the roads come first.”

The financial cost of the storm to St. Lawrence County will not be known until the initial cleanup is over.

“We will have a calculation later, but right now we’re just doing what we have to do for the safety of the county,” Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said.

Ms. St. Hilaire spent Monday afternoon touring the hardest-hit parts of the county and warming shelters with interim Public Health Director Lorraine B. Kourofsky and interim Emergency Services Director Keith J. Zimmerman.

The visits are to make sure medical needs are being addressed and that gathering spots which may become shelters, such as the Edwards Senior Center, Gouverneur Central School and Colton-Pierrepont Central School, are equipped with cots, food and generators. Public Health and Mental Health services of the county provided nurses and counselors. The Salvation Army was on hand with food and beverages.

“The real issue for county services is our response to the emergency,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “We’ll worry about the cost later.”

The weekend typically means a small staff at the 911 center, but the county called in extra hands over the weekend to deal with additional emergency calls, Mr. Zimmerman said.

“We had no light shifts,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Department arranged for the National Guard, which was sent out in teams of two to check on every house without power to assess occupants’ needs, Ms. St. Hilaire said. Staff from the Office for the Aging were making phone checks of people they knew might need help. The office’s nutrition program was also helping with food.

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