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The Carolinas Host A Rare And Rowdy Visitor — Snow


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Snow has become a four letter word, that take from one suburban Philadelphia official on the latest winter storm to hit the East Coast. And who can blame them?

BLOCK: The storm slammed the South then barreled up the coast and is burying the Northeast in layers of snow. More than a foot of it has fallen in parts of Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Baltimore.

SIEGEL: And with all that snow comes havoc. Most schools are closed throughout the region, leaving parents scrambling for childcare and educators frustrated over another missed school day. A notable exception: New York City schools stayed open.

BLOCK: Air traffic has also taken a hit. More than 8,000 domestic flights were cancelled. There have been at least 17 storm-related deaths, many of them in traffic accidents, and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses lost electricity.

SIEGEL: How bad was it today? Well, we're going to hear a couple of different points of view from the Carolinas. First, we turn to Dwayne Cartwright, who's in Monks Corner, South Carolina. He's the president and CEO of the Berkeley Electric Cooperative. You provide power, I guess, to the area surrounding Charleston, but not the city of Charleston itself?

DWAYNE CARTWRIGHT: Yes, that is correct.

SIEGEL: And how bad is this storm?

CARTWRIGHT: It's been very extensive. We have 85,000 members, and at one time we had about 71,000 outages, so about two-thirds of our membership experienced an outage throughout the storm. This is going to compare to the greatest historical storm, the Hurricane Hugo, when it went through. At that time, we had a little over 48,000 members out of power. This storm, we're going to exceed that number quite a little bit.

SIEGEL: The logistical challenge to a utility like yours is not only to figure out where all the points of needed repair are, but then to get your vehicles there, to get your people there. So you're at the mercy of the road conditions as well.

CARTWRIGHT: We've got road conditions and then we've got off-road conditions. A lot of our lines will go across country. The ground is very saturated, therefore it becomes very muddy or boggy. With the size of equipment that's required to put these poles up, sometimes we have some real difficulties.

SIEGEL: For South Carolina, this has obviously been an incredibly snowy winter. Does it change the way you have to think about it and how many people you have to keep around and how you have to prepare?

CARTWRIGHT: This winter has been a peculiarly different winter as far as the ice and than with previous experience in the last few years. We gear more towards the hurricanes that come along the coast. This is the second ice storm we've had in two weeks. The first one I say was a baby that taught us a little bit so the grandpa come along this time. So we're - hopefully we're prepared, but it's going to take some time to get them all back on.

SIEGEL: That's Dwayne Cartwright with Berkeley Electric Cooperative in South Carolina. I also talked today with Ron Carlee. He is city manager across the border in Charlotte, North Carolina.

RON CARLEE: Well, I was out with some long time city veterans surveying the streets earlier today. This is the most snow anyone has seen in well over 10 years in Charlotte, but quite frankly, the street crews are pretty pumped to get out and use their plows and do the salting and brining. They're pretty committed to the 24-hour operation and getting things better.

SIEGEL: And today were public offices closed?

CARLEE: And a lot of private offices too. We got ahead of this storm in terms of messaging how bad it was going to be and most people stayed off the roads yesterday and today. Our police department and transportation people checked every abandoned car on the highways last night and found no one actually stranded in their car.

SIEGEL: You found no drivers stranded out on the roads.

CARLEE: Overnight.

SIEGEL: Overnight in Charlotte. That seems at odds with the images we were hearing about of the people abandoning their cars.

CARLEE: It was amazing watching Charlotte on national TV. There was one relatively small stretch of one road that got really slippery and we had to close down and get some 18-wheelers off and some cars that got stuck in order to treat the road and open it back up. And you would've thought the whole city was in gridlock.

But that certainly was not the case. We had delays at a variety of different places. It was a little bit more pronounced on Independence Avenue yesterday, but that event lasted two and a half hours.

SIEGEL: Now, what about transportation in the area? I gather that the airport had or has many people stranded?

CARLEE: Yeah, we're gonna have a lot of people overnight because we are the second largest hub for the new American Airlines and because the snow is hitting everything on the eastern seaboard, it's really hard to get anything in and out of Charlotte. So we will have several hundred people spending the night at the airport.

SIEGEL: So you've had enough snow for this winter?

CARLEE: It was fun for a while, but we're ready for springtime.

SIEGEL: OK. Mr. Carlee, thank you very much for talking with us.

CARLEE: Thank you so much.

SIEGEL: Ron Carlee is city manager in Charlotte, North Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.