Switzerland County: ‘Meeting the challenge and overcoming’

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Sunday began as a sunny September day; but as morning turned to afternoon – Switzerland County and other areas of Indiana felt the full force of the power of Hurricane Ike, which had struck the Texas coast earlier in the weekend.

Strong winds, gusting to as much as 80-miles per hour, pummeled many areas of Switzerland County, as trees toppled; barns and other structures collapsed; and nearly all of the county suffered power outages.

Members of the Switzerland County Emergency Management unit leaped into action as the force of the weather was beginning to be evaluated.

George Adams of Emergency Management said that the team declared an emergency situation at approximately 3 p.m. on Sunday; hearing reports of numerous power outages and downed trees.

“Vevay was the hardest hit,” George Adams said. “There was tree and house damage, and it was scattered all through town. Patriot was hit hard, too. They had to shut down the whole town from 5-11 p.m. Sunday because there were downed power lines blocking the four-way intersection.”

George Adams said that the Patriot Volunteer Fire Department did an excellent job of clearing the power lines so that traffic could resume – and that was just one instance of where volunteer fire companies and others around the county worked to ensure everyone’s safety.

“All of the fire departments kicked in and did an excellent job on damage assessment and clearing roads,” George Adams said. “All of the fire departments have been loaning out their generators to people who are trying to keep their freezers going; and they’ve been rotating them because there aren’t enough to go around. All of our fire departments have been using tarps to try and cover roofs; and tried to help people in anyway that they could.”

George Adams said that as Sunday moved toward night, he and Emergency Management chief Gary Wentworth did an assessment of the county, noting where barns had been blown down and roofs were missing. He said that no injuries had been reported to the agency, and said that most people did a good job of taking cover during the high winds and then using precaution when they came outside after the winds blew through.

“The nursing home had a generator and they got it up and running, so those folks were taken care of,” George Adams said. “And we were able to get a generator from the state emergency management office and we put it at the Shell station in Vevay so there could be gas for emergency vehicles.”

Throughout the county people tried to clean up the large limbs, roofing shingles, and other debris that littered the entire area; and again county volunteer fire departments and other volunteers were out assisting people with getting trees off of their homes and clearing county roads.

Switzerland County Sheriff Nathan Hughes said that the jail was operating with a generator and that all security was up and running. He also noted that deputies had been driving county roads, and were carrying chainsaws so that they could help clear blocked roads when they found them.

Although power had not been fully restored in the county as of Wednesday morning, George Adams said that the work that volunteers did prior to the arrival of utility workers from Duke Energy and Southeastern Indiana REMC helped speed up the process of getting power back on.

“With the widespread outages that we had, compared to the ice storm that parts of the county were hit with a couple of years ago, our efforts have run so smoothly this time that it’s just amazing to me,” George Adams said.

Cooperation has been the key, as volunteer fire companies; emergency management members; sheriff’s department officers; town police officers; and EMS personnel have all worked together to move manpower and other assistance to areas of the county that needed it the most.

Along with those agencies, George Adams said that individual volunteers have been coming forth to offer their services wherever they are needed.

“It’s like we’ve had an epidemic of brotherly love,” he said. “We had all kinds of volunteers asking what they could do to help out. We’ve seen neighbors helping neighbors; volunteers helping fire departments; school personnel offering to help out; and so much more. It’s just been wonderful to see this county pull together.”

Perishable food that was in danger of thawing was donated by local stores to fire companies, and free food centers were set up in fire houses so that those without power could come and get a hot meal.

Emergency Management also saw fire departments delivering meals to shut ins and others without power; and such necessary items as oxygen for those who need it were also delivered.

“We tried to cover everything,” George Adams said. “Departments were sharing fuel; we were getting food to people who needed it and anything else where people had a need.

“This county has met the challenge,” he said. “A lot of people have put in a lot of hours. Every obstacle that this county has needed to cross, we’ve met it and crossed over it. People should be very proud of themselves.”

Along with volunteers in the county, George Adams said that officials from Duke Energy and Harry Althoff of REMC have been working side-by-side with county officials in trying to get the power restored as quickly and safely as possible.

Although power is continuing to be restored to homes, George Adams said that the potential dangers may not be over.

“People need to watch out for each other’s houses,” he said. “With the strength of that wind, the power lines going into houses have been stretched and may have come loose. That means that there is a danger of fires, so everyone needs to keep watching out for each other. Just because they have electricity doesn’t mean that there’s no longer a danger.”

With the county cleanup well underway, Emergency Management is still assessing the situation, and has been making some decisions based on potential risk to individuals.

This Saturday’s scheduled “Junque Jubilee” community yard sale in Vevay and around the county has been canceled; and George Adams said that a dumpster has been placed behind the Jefferson-Craig Firehouse specifically for people to be able to safely discard perishable foods that have thawed out or gone bad because of the lack of electricity.

“That’s the only thing that we will allow to be thrown into that dumpster,” George Adams said. “But people need to be able to discard that food without animals getting into it or there being a health risk.”

Until power is restored to the entire county, Switzerland County remains under a Level 2 Emergency, meaning that everyone should take extra precautions while traveling in the county, and residents should take as few unnecessary trips as possible.

With the worst of the winds now behind it, Switzerland County is now working hard to clean up and start up again.

“I can’t praise our fire departments enough,” George Adams said. “But we also need to praise every person in this county. Everyone really came together and helped whoever had a need. It was really special to watch.”