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State trooper Bob Smith went door to door to check on residents possibly without power. Photo: David Sommerstein
State trooper Bob Smith went door to door to check on residents possibly without power. Photo: David Sommerstein

Facing ice & cold, first responders go door-to-door

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Some 2,000 utility workers from across the Northeast struggled to restore electricity in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties yesterday - even as ice-coated tree limbs kept pulling down power lines.

In St. Lawrence County, officials set up shelters in Gouverneur, Edwards, Colton, and Harrisville as residents braced for last night's sub-zero temperatures.

National Guard troops and state police went door-to-door to check on residents in the hardest hit parts of the county. David Sommerstein went along and has this report.

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State troopers huddle before heading out to check on residents in the hardest hit parts of St. Lawrence County. Photo: David Sommerstein

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

At the warming station at Gouverneur high school, Salvation Army volunteer David Griffith mans the snack table.

GRIFFITH: Hot water to make tea, hot chocolate, coffee. We got donuts. Stuff to keep people warm.

What they don’t have is people. No one is here mid-day.

St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells says that’s because many residents have hunkered down. Wells says one family nearly died Sunday night because their generator was pumping carbon monoxide into the house.

SHERIFF WELLS: We’re concerned about those people who have been sheltering in place. What are they using for alternative heat? If they’re operating generators, do we have any issues with carbon monoxide issues, like we’ve had a couple other places in the county last night. Are neighbors checking on neighbors? And that’s what we’re trying to accomplish today in certain hardships.

In St. Lawrence County, the rural towns of Pitcairn, Fowler, Rossie, Macomb, and Gouverneur were the hardest hit by the ice storm. So first responders split up to check on people, one house at a time.

State troopers huddled with maps, coordinated with about 40 National Guard soldiers from Fort Drum, then set out onto the back roads.

TROOPER BOB SMITH: Do you have oil for heat or what do you have?

LANCTO: Propane. We just got filled just before this happened, so that’s good…

State Trooper Bob Smith asks Hillary Lancto, in rural Gouverneur, a bunch of questions - if she has enough heat to last three days just in case, if anyone in the house needs medicine, and if they have enough water. He jots it all down with her cell phone number on a clipboard in case they have to follow up later. Lancto says they haven’t lost power at all yet.

LANCTO: Everything’s working good. I was praying the whole time!

The patorl moved on to another house.

SMITH: Hello, how are you today? We’re going around checking on people…

Amanda Kingsbury says she has a wood stove and enough wood to last all winter. So she’s fine. She has lost power several times as iced limbs keep falling on the lines.

KINGSBURY: We’ve gone three hours at a time, and then it’ll come back on, and then it’ll go off. We have a generator in the barn if you know anyone who can hook it up [laughs]…

That power off-power on issue may continue to dog utility crews because the ice may not get a chance to melt off the trees. The number of customers without power in St. Lawrence County actually held steady most of yesterday, says county Administrator Karen St. Hillaire.

ST. HILLAIRE: We get 1,000 on, and we get 700 or 800 out. And so they’re really fighting a battle to get those numbers down.

It’s unclear how many people had to leave their homes and head to one of the shelters. But St. Hillaire says with Christmas Day approaching, she understands those who did are upset.

ST. HILLAIRE: A lot of people are very frustrated and very upset because they can’t be in their homes at this time of the year. What we’re trying to do is to make sure, first of all, people are safe.

St. Hillaire reiterates that means people shouldn’t use unsafe heat sources, or operate generators in their homes. If the generator’s in the garage, make sure it’s properly vented. And anyone with medical issues or problems staying warm or safe should call 911.

She says utilities are pushing hard to return power to all homes by midnight Christmas Eve.

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