Snowstorm creates multiple wrecks in Cleburne County
by Laura Camper
Jan 29, 2014 | 4798 views |  0 comments | 57 57 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Andi Lindsey got a call from Cleburne County Schools about 10:15 a.m. Tuesday saying the schools were closing at 11 a.m.

She abandoned her half-filled grocery cart at the store and went straight over to pick up her kids. The snow was falling gently but steadily. As a newcomer to the area, she’d heard horror stories about snowstorms in Cleburne County from relatives. Lindsey didn’t want to take any chances. But the roads were already slippery by the time she and her three children were headed to their home between Heflin and Ranburne half an hour later.

“We pulled off of 78 onto 9 and that’s where I got stuck the first time,” Lindsey said. “One of the men that lived in there, he pushed my truck so I could get into the middle lane so I could get to rolling again.”

But about 3 or 4 miles from her house, Lindsey got stuck again — this time sideways on Cleburne County Road 19 about half a mile past County Road 118. Some Micaville firefighters stopped and pushed her truck to the side of the road, Lindsey said. But they couldn’t help her further because the firefighters were responding to a wreck farther down the road, Lindsey said.

She and her children stayed in the truck while she called relatives to see if they could come get them.

“My kids were freaking out; I was just trying to keep calm for them,” Lindsey said. “I said, if we have to, well we’ll just try to walk on.”

But within about half an hour, a good Samaritan in a Hummer arrived and drove the family home, Lindsey said.

Lindsey was one of dozens of motorists involved in accidents or stranded on Cleburne County roadways after more than 2 inches of snow fell in the area Tuesday.

Cleburne County EMA Director Steve Swafford Tuesday said there were multiple accidents across the county. Tow truck services were overwhelmed with calls, he said.

“We have exhausted our EMS and fire resources,” Swafford said. “There are folks slid off everywhere and where they’re slid off they’re going to be there a while.”

The city of Heflin closed its city streets, and Swafford said the county engineer had declared county roads impassable.

Heflin police Chief A.J. Benefield said Wednesday afternoon the department had responded to or assisted Alabama State Troopers with 27 wrecks since 11 a.m. Tuesday, and the calls were still coming.

“We’re assisting the Troopers right now with two wrecks on I-20,” Benefield said.

He said state troopers could not get to the wrecks in their vehicles, so Heflin officers took them in a four-wheel-drive SUV and the city’s humvee.

Tuesday afternoon, the city of Heflin opened its Recreation Center on Coleman Street as a warming center for stranded motorists. Two people from Haralson County, Ga., on their way to Jacksonville made their way to the center after becoming stuck at the Jack’s Restaurant in Heflin, said Tammy Perry, director of Heflin’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“Jack’s closed and they needed some place to go,” said Mayor Rudy Rooks.

The Recreation Center closed about 6 p.m., after the Heflin Baptist Church opened an overnight shelter, Perry said.

Bobby Bailey, chairman of deacons for the church, said the shelter took in five people who had become stranded on the interstate.

“The police brought some and the National Guard brought some,” Bailey said. “We provide a warm, safe place to sleep and hot meals.”

Bailey said the church opened the shelter at about 4 p.m. It was manned by church members and staff from the Department of Human Resources. It closed at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, he said.

The church has opened as a shelter numerous times over the years for tornado and hurricane alerts, Bailey said. However, it hasn’t opened for a snow emergency since 1993, he added.

Ryan Robertson, Cleburne County Probate Judge, decided to close the Cleburne County Courthouse at noon on Tuesday. It remained closed Wednesday, but he said at least the probate office and the court will open at noon on Thursday. Heflin City Hall closed Wednesday and will remain closed Thursday, Rooks said.

The Street Department worked Wednesday to clear the streets, but “it was really too froze to do much good,” he said. The city streets remained closed Wednesday and overnight, Rooks said.

“We just want everybody to just stay safe,” Rooks said. “Just kind of hunker down at home until this mess clears up.”

According to the National Weather Service office in Calera, that should start happening Thursday.

Kristina Sumrall, observing program leader, said temperatures will warm enough for ice and snow to melt.

“Between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., it should be sun-up and temperatures warming up to about freezing,” Sumrall said.

The predicted high for Thursday is the upper 30s, she said.

That may allow the stranded motorists to start recovering their vehicles.

Lindsey’s car was still on County Road 19 on Wednesday. She was unsure when she would be able to pick it up.

“I had to leave it and I hope nobody’s broke into it or anything,” Lindsey said.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.

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