Fri February 03, 2023

By Jeff Smithpeters

Hope, Hempstead County, Hope Water & Light officials provide updates on ice storm response

A Hope Water & Light crew works this morning in the city's Carolyn Street in the Strong Addition. Photos by April Lovette.

Officials for Hope and Hempstead County are saying residents should only drive when absolutely necessary, but that the roads in the city and county have been cleared. What remains is to address the few hundred cases in which households are still out of power and to remove debris, mostly from pine trees, that has fallen throughout the area as a result of Thursday morning and afternoon’s ice storms.

Hope Interim City Manager J.R. Wilson said that Thursday he was informed that about a thousand Hope Water & Light customers were without power. The city received 200 phone calls reporting outrages. 

Meanwhile, several trees in the city and out had fallen across roadways. These were removed by city and county road crews as of today, Wilson said.

In Hope, there were two cases of trees falling on homes and two calls to the Hope Fire Department that resulted in responses. But fortunately, no significant damage was reported associated with the Fire Department calls.

Hope Police responded to a report that a nine-year-old had gone missing. After about an hour, the child was found and returned.  Wilson said police had not had to respond to an inordinate number of car accidents during the storm.  Regarding injuries attributed to the storm, Wilson said he was not aware of any such case.

Despite cases of trees uprooting in the city, Wilson said he knew of no cases of damage to underground water or sewer lines.

Regarding debris, mainly from fallen tree limbs, Wilson said, “We’re just working on cleanup on the sides of roads. We have personnel working today, primarily in the northwest quadrant of our city.” He had the following advice to city-dwellers wishing to clear their yards of tree remnants: “They can put that debris near the roadway, not on the roadway. And for our grapple truck we’ll schedule a time to come by and pick up that debris.”  He asked for patience, “because there’ll be a lot of debris, and it’ll take quite a while to get it all.”

Private contractors enlisted by residents to remove debris are urged to call the city to find out where to take the debris to once it is gathered.

As for trash-pickup, Wilson said Thursday routes were cancelled because of the storm. He expects trash service to resume by Monday.

Wilson also expressed his preference for reduced road traffic right now. “Don’t drive if it is not absolutely necessary,” he said.  He also advised residents “if they experience a problem that requires public service, just give us a call, and we’ll be there as quickly as we can be.” That number is 1 (870) 777-6701.

Cathy Aaron, the Hempstead County 911 Coordinator and Head of Emergency Management, referred to the storm as far as the county is concerned as a dodged bullet. She said the 911 service “made it through the storm without any glitches” and that the even is being handled by personnel already located in the area, that her office “never had to be called in to get any resources basically to help" because of the contributions of Hope Water & Light, the Arkansas Department of Transportation and county and city road crews.

Aaron said she’d received no reports of dwellings that are now unlivable because of storm damage but knew of two that “moved out until they could get them fixed.” These include one trailer that had a tree fall through it and one house that had a limb go through it.

In total, Aaron said 2,452 households had lost power in Hempstead county and in its cities. As of our phone call to her Friday morning, she said 674 in the county remain without power.

Worst-hit areas for tree damage and power outages include the Strong Addition in Hope, located east of Hope High School. She said meters had been displaced from houses there and limbs fallen on the neighborhood’s main electric line had disrupted power there.

Aaron recommended staying off the roads today, having a Go Kit with bottles of water and other toiletries included in case of being stranded in a car or needing to leave home. She advised not using generators inside houses to avoid Carbon Monoxide poisoning. Finally, she asked that residents not use 911 unless for true emergencies. These would not include a power outage. Those reports should be addressed to the utility responsible.

At Hope Water and Light, the workers and managers alike are working the long hours to address outages and safety, Charlotte Bradley, the company’s Co-General Manager told us this morning. She estimates that about 22 workers are out in the city now.  She herself, she admitted, came into work Thursday after receiving a 4:22 a.m. phone call and only went home last night at 9:00 p.m. to find that a tree had fallen across her own driveway.

She expressed regret that 400 city residents are still without power from a high of 4,000 being without it yesterday. The trouble spots, Bradley said, are in the area of town east southeast of Highway 67, especially near Rosston Road, Highway 32, Edgewood and Robin Hood.  “Some of them are individual cases,” of power being out, as opposed to groups and clusters.

Like Aaron, Bradley said service providers outside the immediate area had not been called to help. “We have not utilized our mutual aid agreement. Just staff of Hope Water and Light electric and water departments. We’ve got all of these crews out working as a team to get our services restored.”

Many meters, Bradley said, had been displaced from houses. In those cases, property owners will need to hire licensed electricians, “and I just have to reiterate licensed,” Bradley said. “You want your stuff done properly.”

In the  unlikely case of the meter itself being damaged, the ratepayer is not responsible for replacement or repairs because the meter is owned by Hope Water & Light, Bradley clarified. But damage to the base of the meter falls to the responsibility of the property owner.

Bradley attributes the damage to tree limbs becoming heavier with ice accumulation and then falling or causing the tree to uproot in the saturated soil.  “When they fall on the lines, I will tell you as working for a utility company, I’d much rather see snow than ice,” she said.

Fallen power lines, Bradley said, require special attention from Hope Water and Light because of the dangers they pose “because you don’t know if the wires are live.” She recommended residents who see lines down to report them immediately but to keep their distance. “Don’t get out of your cars. Do not try to move anything. Contact us and we’ll definitely take a look at it.”  The phone number for doing so is 1 (870) 777-3000.