Drivers find going anything but easy

Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2001

Mother Nature and Old Man Winter combined to leave Kenai Peninsula residents a chilling surprise Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. After bludgeoning much of the lower peninsula with gale force winds Saturday, the duo upped the ante and, with moisture still hovering in the air, turned up the temperature Tuesday evening to just below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

The result was freezing rains that made area roads so slick drivers were creeping down streets, crawling over hills and, in some cases, climbing out of ditches.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Keirns said the freezing rains would continue through the weekend.

"We'll see at least a couple more days of this wet, sloppy (stuff)," Keirns said. "That low is still sitting down at Southwest rotating energy up here in Southcentral. We're on the warm part of this storm. We'll be mostly in the 30s during the day and flirt with zeros at night."

The Alaska State Troopers issued a statement Wednesday afternoon urging motorists to keep traffic on the roads to a minimum around the peninsula. Icy road conditions and standing water on the roads created travel hazards.

Troopers reported many cars sliding off the roads between Kenai and Anchorage and Kenai and Homer and discouraged travel on either road. First Sgt. Charles Tressler said he anticipated a closing.

"I've got to make a call to Seward," he said Wednesday afternoon. "They're wanting to close the road."

Central Emergency Services chief Len Malmquist said Christmas Day was busy responding to calls for cars in ditches. But Wednesday, he said, CES was overwhelmed with such calls.

"We were busy enough and roads were bad enough that we ended up telling dispatchers don't have us go check on cars in ditches," Malmquist said.

He said CES was most concerned about calls with injuries and needed to make sure responders were available for the most essential emergencies.

"When we're checking vehicles in ditches where there are no known injuries, we're committed to that call," Malmquist said. "When we have fires or injuries, we're not in the normal position to handle that call. Trooper dispatchers are getting calls, and they're making determinations as to where to send them."

He said many calls are being sent to area towing services. Roger Poage, who drives a wrecker for Jim's Towing and Auto Body in Kenai, said he was responding to trooper calls as well as those from his office.

"Between the cops and the boss, we've been keeping busy," Poage said.

Poage said Jim's Towing had been pulling people out of ditches since about 2:30 Tuesday afternoon.

"We had one truck running (Tuesday) until about three in the morning," he said. "Then we had two after that. We have (had) two trucks going all day today."

Poage said his trucks were able to tow up to a full-sized truck and said the wreckers had been modified to handle driving on the icy roads.

"We're chaining up all four tires," he said. "That way you've got your steering and your power."

Helen Ware, a dispatcher with Sterling Auto, in Sterling, echoed the trooper warning against venturing out on the road.

"People have no business out there driving," Ware said. "It's awful out here."

She said her driver was out towing until midnight Tuesday evening, before the towing pulley on his truck broke. He was able to repair it, but in the meantime, the calls kept coming.

"Last night the phone rang all night," Ware said. "We probably missed about 100 calls."

Both Jim's and Sterling Auto received some of their calls from the American Automobile Association. Jeff Wolfe is manager of the automotive services program for AAA MountainWest, which is responsible for AAA's toll-free roadside assistance service in Alaska. He said nine calls came from the peninsula by midafternoon Wednesday.

"Whatever happened today, we've had almost twice as many as yesterday," Wolfe said. "Of course, that's probably because of the fact that fewer people were on the roads on Christmas day."

Tressler said the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities will keep sanding the roads, but progress may be hard to come by.

"As long as it continues to rain, it's going to wash out the sand and they'll be back out sanding," he said.

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