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Snow snarls Tri-State traffic

Jan. 25, 2013 @ 10:40 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Dozens of vehicle crashes snarled traffic Friday afternoon on Interstate 64 in Cabell County.

It was just one aspect of a late January snow storm that forced many schools to dismiss early, postponed action in the 36th annual St. Joe Invitational Basketball Tournament and significantly delayed one flight at Huntington Tri-State Airport.

The headaches accumulated more than the falling snow, as forecasters estimated Huntington had little more than an inch of snow on the ground.

But that was just enough to send cars sliding.

Emergency dispatchers recorded 29 vehicle crashes between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday in Cabell County, according to 911 Director Mike Davis. He said at least 22 of those accidents happened on Interstate 64.

That was the height of Friday's problems, but the number of crashes continued to mount into Friday evening with accidents from the West Virginia-Kentucky state line to Milton.

"People are in a terrible habit of not moderating their driving habits to match road conditions," said Huntington Police Capt. Mike Albers. "They think they can go 70 miles per hour because the sign says 70. It happens every time."

Friday was no exception, and Albers said the timing of this storm might have further complicated matters. He said dry conditions in the morning made motorists comfortable, so comfortable they didn't adjust when flurries started to fall.

At one point, authorities urged motorists to travel as slowly as 30 miles per hour or simply avoid I-64 altogether in Huntington. Police also blocked on-ramps to limit traffic and assisted road crews in driving 40 miles per hour in the fast lane to slow traffic and aid the melting process.

Injuries were reported in at least 12 of the 22 midday crashes on I-64, Davis said. None were considered life-threatening, which was not the case in one crash in Boone County.

West Virginia State Police are blaming winter weather conditions for a fatal car accident in the county.

Officials say Rachel Vicker was killed Friday afternoon when the car she was in crashed head on into a truck. No one else was seriously injured.

The Associated Press reported that troopers say snow and ice on the road caused the accident on Route 3.

Elsewhere, emergency dispatchers reported trouble spots on U.S. 52 in South Point, Ohio, and W.Va. 10 in Lincoln County near Branchland and West Hamlin, W.Va. Crashes also have been reported in other areas, and authorities everywhere urge caution.

In Huntington, city workers spread about 75 tons of salt throughout the city Friday, said Joe Day, street supervisor for the City of Huntington. He said there are two shifts of drivers alternating 12-hour shifts until the storm clears.

"They fill up a truck, and spread the salt. When they are empty, they fill them back up and start all over again," Day said. "That is the process throughout the whole shift."

He said the city had close to 500 tons of salt ready to go at the beginning of the storm, and crews will use as much as they need to keep the roads clear.

He still encouraged motorists to use caution and give themselves plenty of travel time while crews work to keep up with the snow.

Travel time was something on the minds of several travelers at Tri-State Airport during Friday's storm.

Poor visibility was blamed for delaying an Allegiant Air flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The plane was diverted to Lexington, Ky., for refueling while conditions cleared. It eventually arrived three-and-a-half hours late, also delaying a noon departure to Fort Lauderdale until 4 p.m.

It made for tight quarters in the Tri-State terminal, where those bound for Fort Lauderdale waited alongside others who arrived for a later flight. Local businesswoman Rebecca Randolph was among those cramped inside. She posted a photo online of the crowd.

"It's a small, hectic space," she said. "Lots of people were sitting on the floor and in walkways, while gate staff attempted to get folks arranged to make way for the arriving passengers."

Cabell County and each of its surrounding school systems dismissed students early. Some dismissed as early as 11:30 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.

Snow showers eventually tapered off, and forecasters lifted the Tri-State's winter weather advisory late Friday afternoon.



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