Barney Freeman, left, and Mike Morton load the lunch bags for distribution. Freeman said Food Giant has been feeding the crews all week, preparing between 200 and 300 lunches per day. The paper bag lunches include a sandwich, salad, fruit, dessert and a drink. Food Giant bakery manager Jane Vaughn said employees have started preparing the bagged lunches at 5:30 each morning. Also helping with the preparation process this week have been Tatum Volpe, Heather Parkman and Vaughn’s youngest son, Chris. Photo by Fred Conley.
MELTING HELPS CLEAR MAIN ROADS
Parts of Forrest City and St. Francis County are returning to some sense of normalcy after Sunday's winter storm dropped freezing rain, sleet and snow across the area, canceling classes at area schools and causing logjams on most area roadways.
According to Forrest City Mayor Larry Bryant, most city roads have been cleared of ice, but now the city is battling a new set of issues left behind after the storm.
"I think everyone we assisted is back on the road and gone now, and we're getting everything else back to normal with the exception of leaks in all of our buildings. When you have this much ice, you get thawing and refreezing, and now we have several leaks at city hall, several at the Civic Center and several at the multi-purpose center, but we'll get that taken care of," said Bryant.
"We're trying to catch up on our garbage collection. We’re going to run two residential trucks every day until we can get caught up. It was just too hazardous for us to put those large trucks out there this week, but we'll get everything back in order. There were a couple of days that we couldn't have run the routes if we wanted to because the landfill was closed. You definitely didn't want to risk having someone injured trying to take those heavy trucks all the way down to Phillips County," he said.
Bryant thanked area citizens for their patience through the storm and said he is hopeful residents understand the city did what it could.
"I'm just glad the citizens were able to bear with us during this situation. We tried to do the best we could with what we had, and I appreciate the fact that people have been patient and understanding of the situation we had," said Bryant.
According to Bryant, there were more than 125 people assisted at the Civic Center and multi-purpose center during the storm. Many of those were travelers stranded on I-40 as Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department crews attempted to clear the roadway of ice.
"We had more than 30 who stayed at the Civic Center. There were more who came out and rested and then left, but didn't sign in. We also had more than 100 people come out to the multi-purpose center. We had two Greyhound bus loads yesterday, but we also had several residents who took refuge out there during the power outages," he said.
One area school reopened its doors this morning after closing Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. According to Palestine-Wheatley School District Superintendent Jon Estes, the decision was made after officials toured bus routes and contacted parents with any adjustments made.
"We went out yesterday and the roads looked good. We had lights, so we decided that we would reopen. We took the buses out and went on our routes. There were some areas where we would normally drive down, but couldn't, and the decision was made that those students would be picked up right there at the road. We contacted the parents and let them know that yesterday so they could make adjustments to their schedules," said Estes.
With conditions on some county roads still hazardous, Estes said student absences today will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
"We hadn't really looked at that, but if we do have situations like that, they will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis," he said.
The Forrest City School District remained closed today, and interim superintendent Joye Hughes said the road conditions in many parts of the district are still too hazardous for student travel.
"We went out and rode on some of those country roads yesterday, and at this point, there is just no way we can safely get the buses out there or those students in to our schools," said Hughes.
"We went out to 284 in the Colt area, and it was still really bad out there yesterday. There were portions along 284 near Tall Trees that were still in pretty bad shape, and while we want our students here preparing for testing next week, student safety still has to be our primary concern," said Hughes. "Hopefully, we'll get some sunshine and warmer temperatures and will be able to get back in tomorrow."
County Sheriff Bobby May said he doesn’t believe conditions will improve drastically until tomorrow.
"The primary roadways and the interstate have cleared up and are in good condition, but these secondary highways and county roads are still in pretty bad shape and are still dangerous. I would still advise people to stay home for another day because we're still getting reports of people sliding off into ditches or people simply unable to get out of their driveway because this stuff melts a little during the day and then refreezes at night,” said May. “The temperatures are only supposed to get into the upper 30s today, and we're going to need some sunshine and 50-degree weather to clear this out of here. I think that's what is forecast for tomorrow.”