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Much of the area was blanketed in ice this past weekend. Pictured is an ice-covered tree outside of Madison County Middle School. Photo by Margie Richards


Old Jack Frost shows his bite
County residents bundle up and brace for more wintry weather
Old Jack Frost finally showed his bite this winter as frigid weather hit Madison County and surrounding areas this past weekend.
Residents hurried to secure groceries and supplies as the snow began to fall Saturday, gearing up for the first bout of severe weather in a mostly mild winter so far.
And the National Weather Service says the cold snap will continue, with more winter precipitation possibly hitting the area later this week.
On Saturday, an afternoon snow shower turned to sleet and freezing rain overnight, leaving most of the county blanketed not in white - but in ice.
Most of the main roads in the area remained passable Sunday morning, however many church services were cancelled due to the possibility of icy roads.
The Athens post of the Georgia State Patrol investigated "very few" weather-related traffic accidents in Madison County over the weekend, according to officer Robert Hardy.
Hardy added that problems were much more severe for counties just to the north, such as Hall.
But David Camp, director of Madison County's 911 office, said dispatchers received a number of weather-related calls from all over the county. From Saturday afternoon until midnight Monday, a total of 29 accident calls were received, three with injuries. There were three calls of power lines down, which resulted in calling out a fire department due to lines in trees or on the ground.
In addition, there were two structure fires believed to be related to weather, Camp said, one in which an electrical box caught fire in a home.
The words "winter storm" are dreaded particularly by those who provide power and phone service.
Jackson Electric Membership Corporation representative Pat Kerley said reports of power outages began coming from Madison County around 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning as ice accumulated on trees and power lines.
Brian Patton, of the Neese district office, said most of the outages were in the Hull area, although there were scattered outages around the county.
Kerley estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 households were without power during the peak of the problem Sunday. Most homes and businesses are serviced by the local Neese district office, with some being serviced out of the main office in Jefferson.
Most power was restored in the county by 6:30 a.m. Monday morning, Kerley said, although power was still out in some surrounding areas also served by Jackson EMC.
Kerley, who had been out with some of the crews, said linemen had been working around the clock to restore power, noting that many people didn't understand why it might take a while to restore service.
"People often get impatient with us," Kerley said.
Patton agreed, saying that linemen working on downed lines have to locate the culprit first - which often means a painstaking process of driving around outage areas until the downed lines or line is spotted. This can involve going into the woods or down into ravines in more remote areas. "There can be a whole lot of things in the way besides just the downed trees," Patton said, adding that linemen often have to use wenches to get themselves in and out of a remote area, all the while considering their own safety - particularly after dark.
"There's always the chance of a downed line someone hasn't spotted," Patton said.
Sometimes an hour or two of work can restore power to a lot of customers in one area - or only two or three.
Spokesman James Peters of Georgia Power, which also furnishes electricity to parts of the county, was unable to indicate an approximate number of outages in Madison County due to the storm, but said there were still 2,700 customers without power in the northeast Georgia area as of Tuesday morning.
"We're working around the clock," Peters said, adding that they were already monitoring another winter weather system expected to move into the area Friday.
Alltel employee Carlene Clements said there had been "moderate damage" to phone lines serviced by Alltel due to the storm.
"There was nothing really severe," Clements said, noting that most of the problems were related to power outages from electrically powered generators.
According to a press release from Sarah Clarke, director of communications for Alltel Communications in Alpharetta, approximately 41,000 customers in the north Georgia area were without phone service due to the weekend ice storm.
"Our employees are working 24 hours a day to restore service as quickly as possible," Gregg Richey, president of Alltel communications operations in Georgia said, adding that customers with special needs, such as lifelines and other medical necessities were their top priority. For safety's sake in areas where power lines are also down, phone company employees must work behind power companies to restore service once down lines are repaired and power is restored.
Clarke estimated that Alltel had restored service to more than 28,100 customers in north Georgia by Monday afternoon.
Although school systems in the surrounding areas of Banks, Jackson, Oglethorpe, Franklin and Clarke made the decision to close Monday, Madison County schools remained open.
But an unexpected snow and sleet shower beginning late Monday morning caused school superintendent Dennis Moore to make the decision to close the schools one hour early at 2 p.m. School reopened on time Tuesday morning.

Home destroyed by early morning blaze
A Hull couple's home was destroyed by a fire during the weekend ice storm.
No one was injured, including the family dog, when John and Pat Carithers' home on Hwy. 106 south of Ila caught fire early last Sunday morning. The cause of the fire, or whether it is related to the winter storm, is uncertain. According to Mrs. Carithers, it is believed to have started in an upstairs bedroom which had been converted into an office.
The Neese Sanford Volunteer Fire Department responded to the call, which came in around 8:15 a.m., according fire chief William Carithers. Back-up was provided by both Hull and Ila fire departments.
Firemen fought the blaze a total of five hours, Chief Carithers said, and used approximately 30,000 to 40,000 gallons of water in an attempt to douse the blaze. The home is considered a total loss, with the upstairs being gutted by fire and the downstairs suffering severe smoke and water damage.
"You just don't think it's going to happen to you," Mrs. Carithers said of the tragedy.
After noticing wisps of smoke in the living room where she and her husband were sitting, Carithers said she went upstairs to investigate and found a computer desk in the office engulfed in flames. The desk was located against a wall where the chimney was.
"I'm just thankful we weren't asleep in our bedroom upstairs," she said.
The couple had lived in the home since 1970. It was built by John from their own Georgia pine he sawed on site and took several years to complete.
Although most of their possessions were lost in the fire, they were able to save a few items, Carithers said, thanks to the help of firemen, policemen and others on the scene.
"Everyone was so courteous and so nice," Carithers said of those who came to the scene. Four Hull firemen stayed and helped them move their heavy furniture out of the downstairs after they had to return to the scene later that afternoon when the home caught fire once again, she added.
"So many have called and offered to help," Carithers said, "We have really found out how many friends we have."
The couple is currently staying with Mrs. Carithers' parents in Danielsville.

BOE policy:
If parents move, children must follow
Madison County students whose parents move out of the county will not be allowed to remain in county schools.
The Madison County Board of Education voted 2-0 Monday to stand by a policy that prohibits enrollment by any out-of-county student, unless that child was attending Madison County schools before July 1, 1998. Those enrolled before that date may attend county schools by paying tuition.
Board members Robert Haggard and chairman Jimmy Patton voted to keep the policy, while Jim Patton and Elaine Belfield abstained from voting. Board member John Mason was not at the meeting.
Belfield favored allowing students to stay in county schools - if their parents were willing to pay tuition. She said she knows of two families who are seeking to keep their children in county schools after moving outside of the county.
"It sounds like common sense to let those already enrolled stay," said Belfield. "It would be different if they were out of county and requesting to come in."
Patton, of District 4, said he also felt there should be "stability in a child's education." He said he believed the board should consider the situation of the child and determine what is in the student's best interest. He offered the example of a senior who lacks a few months from graduating when his parents move out of the county, saying that student should be allowed to finish out his high school education in the county.
But board attorney Lane Fitzpatrick warned the board that changing the school's policy on prohibiting more out-of-county students could undermine its effectiveness.
He pointed out that the school system has already forced other students to withdraw after their parents moved out of the county.
"We've followed this policy as strictly as we can since July 1, 1998," said Fitzpatrick. "...If you start making exceptions, you'll wind up with basically no policy....Think about the ramifications of your decision. It won't affect just this one or two families."
Chairman Patton said changing the policy could open the door for those who want to take advantage of the school system by moving to the county for 30 days, enrolling their child, then moving back out of the county.

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