WINSTON COUNTY - Haleyville Mayor Ken Sunseri noted that he was going be the grinch this year, due to the forecast of extremely bitter cold weather late this week.
“I feel like I am going to be the Grinch that ruined Christmas,” Sunseri informed department heads during an emergency planning meeting Monday morning, Dec. 19, in the City Hall courtroom.
Sunseri gathered department heads for important preparation information due to frigid temperature and wind chill forecasts, beginning Thursday night and lasting through Monday, Dec. 26. As of press time, forecasters were expecting temperatures in Northwest Alabama not to rise above freezing for over 72 hours beginning this Friday, with wind chills possibly making it feel like it is below zero at times.
The mayor signed a State of Emergency proclamation during the city council meeting Monday night. The proclamation gives Sunseri the authority to take whatever prudent action is necessary to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the community, enter into contracts, incur obligations, employ temporary workers, utilize volunteer workers, rent equipment, purchase supplies, materials and appropriate and spend public funds during the period of the inclement weather.
“The forecast for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is going to be anywhere from a high of 24 to a low of zero,” Sunseri pointed out. “They are predicting possible rain and turning to snowflakes.”
The first concern Sunseri talked about was the condition of roads during such bitterly cold temperatures, especially portions of Highway 13 which have been partially repaved by the Alabama Department of Transportation.
“Asphalt at one part and nothing on the other,” Sunseri described the current state of the highway. “That is going to freeze over, so we will have a real problem there.”
The Community Safe Room, located underneath City Hall, will possibly be opened as a warming shelter, meaning city employees will need to work in at least three-hour shifts to operate it, the mayor explained.
Sunseri instructed maintenance supervisor Tommy Marshall to make sure the safe room would be open, the heat turned on and efforts made to make sure pipes there do not freeze.
Water will be disconnected and drained at all of the remaining storm shelters throughout the city, according to Sunseri.
“Everything is kind of unknown right now,” Sunseri admitted Monday morning. “We don’t know exactly what is going to take place.”
Sunseri, who was seated near Acting City Clerk Christy Harbin in front of the department heads, communicated via speaker phone to Jennifer Young, CEO of Lakeland Community Hospital, concerning the hospital’s preparations for the arctic blast.
“Do you have your winter plan in place, Jennifer,” Sunseri asked.
“Yes sir we do,” Young responded. “We are having a department head meeting today to make sure everyone who comes in is prepared to stay.”
Sunseri cited times in the past where people would come to the hospital as a warming station during bitterly cold weather.
“How are you going to handle that?” Sunseri asked Young.
“We have enough food. We will have the lobby open and, of course, the hallway going to the emergency department,” Young responded. “We’ll prepare to have extra people here and prepare for the roads to be impassable.”
Sunseri wondered if the community safe room was to be opened as a warming station on Christmas Eve, Saturday, Dec. 24, would most of the local restaurants be open to help provide any needed food.
Restaurants will be closed on Christmas Day, Sunseri noted, which could pose another problem.
“Most of them will be open for only a short period of time or be closed all day,” he stated.
Sunseri advised blankets are located at the safe room, instructing Police Chief Rodney Lewis to get at least three blankets for each patrol unit just in case an accident occurs or homeless people need to be helped.
“We are going to have certain things happen, like people’s pipes frozen,” Sunseri pointed out.
The mayor also urged department heads to contact local manufacturing companies, to make sure their winter preparation plans are in place.
Sunseri recalled a major winter weather event in the past, where city employees were out for several hours searching for water leaks all over town.
“Heating is going to be a problem,” he said, “because if we hit zero degrees temperature, everybody is going to be turning up their thermostats.”
Sunseri advised Barry Farris, the street department supervisor, to fill the sand truck and be ready to go in case sand is needed to be placed over slick areas of roadway.
Farris noted that sanitation would be collected for both Thursday and Friday on Thursday of this week, with garbage for restaurants and the hospital picked up on Saturday. Collection for Monday and Tuesdays’ routes will be on Tuesday, Farris continued.
Sunseri then addressed Jeremy Wise with the Haleyville Rescue Squad, stating they may be needed for transportation of medical workers, depending on the condition of the roads.
“Right now, we are going to have to make as many preparations as we can beforehand,” Sunseri informed department heads.
“That’s all we can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Sunseri added.
Lane Bates, Haleyville Water Works manager, noted his employees are on call 24 hours a day. The department also has an emergency phone number, (205) 269-6555.
Bates instructed residents to have a hand valve to cut off their water in case of a leak.
“Don’t rely on a special water fitting that takes a special tool and rely on us because we may not be able to come,” Bates warned.
Wise added that employees needed to keep their faucets dripping and do other measures to prevent leaks.
“We need our homes in a good condition, so we can go out and help other people,” he said.
“You have to take care of your people,” Sunseri instructed department heads, “because we are going to send them out and it’s nine degrees at night, we have to worry about their health, too.
“I don’t want to take away their times with their families,” Sunseri pointed out. “But in the same respect, we still have a job to do.”
Sunseri also instructed departments to make sure they had an ample supply of water on hand.
Important supplies must be on hand
Acting Fire Chief Terrell Baccus warned residents that water is just one supply needed to be stocked ahead of time, before the cold air arrives.
“Prepare now,” Baccus stressed. “Proper planning prevents poor performance.
“Residents need to make sure they have plenty of food. They need to make sure they have plenty of gas for their heat and, if they have generators, make sure they have those cranked prior to needing them,” Baccus said.
Wise added, “Check on your family. Have your pets taken care of. Check on your neighbors.”
Municipal building always open as warming station
Double Springs Mayor Elmo Robinson said the town’s municipal building on Highway 195 is always open for residents to use as a warming station if needed.
Residents using the municipal building will have cots available to them, but will need to bring their own blankets, pillows and food, Robinson stressed.
“It’s going to be a sudden change for all of us,” Robinson stated. “We’re asking everybody to have their pipes wrapped to where we won’t have a big loss of water.”
Robinson stated that department heads usually fill their vehicles with gas when they go home and have equipment in order, just in case of an emergency, such as a water leak.
Cold weather brings fire hazards
Arley Fire Chief James Rickett said the colder weather results in additional fire hazards.
“These folks who have chimneys, fireplaces, clean those chimneys because we have so many chimney fires when it’s cold,” Rickett pointed out.
Rickett also warned residents to be careful with space heaters and never used them on an extension cord.
“Keep them away from anything flammable, curtains, couches and furniture,” he said.
“I dread it because people are going to be doing all kinds of things to keep warm,” Rickett continued. “Don’t use a stove to heat the house. The stove isn’t made to heat the house. It’s just dangerous.”
As a preparation for the fire department, the station will be kept warm, so water on the trucks will not freeze, Rickett said.
Lynn looks out for older residents
Lynn Town Clerk Marcia Manasco noted the town will take care of its elderly residents during the bitterly cold weather by having accommodations ready for them if needed.
“We will have the fire station number 2, the former BankFirst building and the old town hall open for our citizens who might need it,” Manasco stated.
“We do not have cots, but we do have a warm building that will be open,” she added.
The Lynn Volunteer Fire Department will also be available to provide any assistance they can.
“We are a tight-knit community, and if anyone needs help, all they need to do is ask, and they will be taken care of,” Manasco pointed out.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.