Winter blast moves in, Lowcountry hunkers down

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - After days of preparations, the Lowcountry finally saw Tuesday evening the first glimpses of sleet, ice, and snow. By morning, there could be several inches on the ground.

Gov. Nikki Haley on Tuesday afternoon declared a statewide state of emergency, activating the National Guard to active duty. The Guard's trucks and heavy equipment can be used in storm response. And because an emergency has been declared, laws preventing price gouging are in effect.

In Charleston County, officials have been ramping up their response all day and upgraded the emergency operations level to OPCON3.

The increased level means that a disaster or emergency situation is imminent and that the Emergency Operations Center will be under limited activation and have key personnel on duty, including law enforcement, public works, the department of transportation, and the Red Cross.

Chief of Operations Cathy Haynes says as the weathers plays out, that will determine what other agencies need to be brought in and the level increased. However, she said they don't expect to raise the level past 3 in this winter blast.

The EOC says there are warming shelters across the Lowcountry and there are destination centers that give people rides to the nearest shelter. To get a ride, call 746-3900.

Now that the temperatures have hit freezing, the South Carolina Department of Transportation said its crews are in full ready mode. On Monday, officials came up with a plan for the roads - and carried it out Tuesday.

Since Tuesday afternoon, trucks have been in and out of the salt facility to load up on a brine mixture to treat the roads. There are about 2,000 workers set to work around the clock in rotating 12-hour shifts.

"We have 2,000 people in the maintenance department working and backup at least that many construction people. What we are going to do as things get worst is start moving those people around away from the areas that aren't hardest hit," said James Law.

The DOT first started treating the bridges around noon Tuesday and the treatments became more regular as the temperatures dropped.

While the DOT may be responsible for preparing the roads for winter weather, they do not make the decision to close the bridges. That call comes from local law enforcement.

In Georgetown, cold ice and rain are the big concern on the two bridges there - one that links the city to the Lowcountry, and the other that links it to the Grand Strand.

Most people in Georgetown are adhering to the pleas of city officials to stay home and stay warm. That's one thing that's helping Gary Bone's business. He runs the propane filling station in Georgetown.

He said he usually orders 500 to 800 gallons on a bad day, and he thinks that will get him and his customers through the night.{}

And on Front Street, the shops are deserted and the lights are off, but it's the opposite at Walmart. The parking lot was full late into the night.{}

At the Goose Creek City Fire Department where the roadconditions were steadily worsening. We know tonight there will be emergencies. Thankfullythe firefighters are as prepared as possible for your sake, and their own.

"Our biggest concern in the Lowcountry is ice. We've hadsnow before, but we don't have much ice," said Goose Creek City Fire ChiefSteve Chapman.

While it was calm Tuesday afternoon, it didn't stay thatway for long and Chapman prepared for the worst. More than 30 firefighters wereon duty Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, responding to everything fromstructure fires to accidents to calls for help.

"We go very slowly, a lot more cautious. Maybe even ifthe icy roads get bad enough well respond non-code not using lights and sirens.That way we're not in a hurry. They should handle the ice okay," he said.

The biggest challenge is the unknown.

"Not a lot of ice training in southCarolina. We're just ready to respond as slow and as safely as possible so wecan be of assistance," Chapman said.

The biggest challenge is the bigunknown.{}