In towns without power, 'we're just huddling up'
ALEXANDRIA -- His rumpled cot in the background, Emergency Management Director Kevin Kayser was busy working his cell phone Wednesday at the Hanson County Courthouse.
The courthouse has been operating on its emergency generator since Tuesday, he said, thanks to the powerful combination of ice, sleet, snow and wind that hit the area.
Mitchell weather observer Gary Lambert said 4.8 inches of snow fell Tuesday and another 2.4 inches by 11 a.m. Wednesday, for a cumulative total of 7.2 inches to that point.
According to the National Weather Service, another 4 to 6 inches of snow is possible by the time the rest of the storm moves through this morning.
In the storm's first wave on Tuesday, winds were 20 to 30 mph with occasional 40 mph gusts. Wednesday's winds were 15 to 20 mph, with the same wind speeds predicted today. Mitchell received less than a quarter-inch of ice, according to the NWS, but heavier ice was noted farther east.
In Alexandria, Kayser was dealing with power outages that have left about 1,075 Xcel Energy customers without power in the towns of Alexandria, Bridgewater, Emery and Fulton.
"There's a bunch of Xcel Energy poles down in McCook County between the Marion corner and Bridgewater," Kayser said. "At this point we're looking at possibly two more days without power."
Jim Wilcox, principal manager for Xcel Energy, hopes it won't be that long.
Wilcox said 60,000 Xcel customers experienced outages from the storm. Crews whittled that number to 28,000 affected South Dakota customers by Wednesday.
"The good news is that we have help coming," he said. About 250 linemen will be working to restore power today.
"We're hopeful that with all that extra help we'll have most of the power on by Thursday night," he said.
In cases where fallen tree limbs have pulled down electrical lines leading from homes to the main electrical lines, service restoration could take longer, because Xcel does not own those lines. Individual lines leading to homes will have to be repaired by a private contractor before line crews can restore power, he said.
Rural areas near Alexandria, which are served by Central Electric Cooperative, have been able to maintain power, said company spokesman Ken Schlimgen, "but there's a half-inch of ice on some lines," he added.
Kayser spent part of Wednesday working with the Red Cross to secure a dozen cots for an emergency shelter at the courthouse. Local Emergency Planning Committee Chairman Ray Thomas helped to man the phones. Community members needing temporary shelter should call (605) 239-4218.
With the heat out in most homes, many elderly community residents have moved in with out-of-town family members, and neighbors with generators have invited friends to share their warmth, Kayser said.
"We've got way more generators in town than we used to," he said, "and that's a good thing."
Generators, Kayer said, should be kept outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. He also urged care when re-fueling hot generators.
Landline phone service also went out in town, Kayser said, but cell phones were taking up the slack.
Out by Interstate 90, Kenny Weber, 41, of Emery, was filling up two red gas cans Wednesday at West Town Shell.
"There's no power over in Emery," he said after loading a bag with groceries into his van. "I just stopped to get a few essentials and gas for the generator."
Weber's wife and seven kids were at home without heat.
"We're just huddling up," he said. "We have a little space heater and just enough electricity to keep that going. We'll have one room warm, anyway."
Station owner Jerry Smith, 49, said, "It's been pretty steady, because I'm the only one who's got gas. I've got a generator going on a tractor so I can run everything here."
Smith's wife and daughter went to Mitchell to stay with relatives, and he slept at the station Tuesday night.
Outage duration predictions vary, depending on who's talking, he said.
"I've heard everything from today to Saturday afternoon, so take your pick."
Next door at Joe's Corner, owner Joe Weber was busy at the grill, cooking up several breakfast orders for about three customers. He expects to get busier if the emergency continues.
While some towns like Freeman and Menno received limited tree damage from the storm, Adams said ice damage was far worse east of U.S. Highway 81.
"Trees held up well in Mitchell, and we're thankful," Street and Sanitation Superintendent Ron Olson said Wednesday.
About 15 pieces of snow removal equipment had completed one pass through the town by then, and crews will make a second pass today after the main body of the storm moves through, he said.
"It's hard stuff to move," Olson said of the icy bottom snow layer that bonded to road surfaces.