Freezing rain and sleet immobilized Aiken County with a dangerous blanket of ice Wednesday morning, and conditions worsened throughout the day and night.
Thursday morning brought a new weather challenge to residents - widespread power outages.
More than 50,000 Aiken County residents remain without power Thursday morning.
Tree limbs – and even entire trees – were falling and power outages were widespread. At 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, Aiken County Emergency Management issued a Code Red Alert on behalf of Sheriff Michael Hunt, asking local residents to stay off the roads unless there was a “true” emergency.
“People are having wrecks, and they are straining emergency resources that we could use to go to fires or other events,” said Paul Matthews, an assistant emergency management coordinator.
The National Weather Service in Columbia predicted that Aiken and the surrounding area would be covered with around an inch of ice before the precipitation ended. A winter storm warning is in effect until noon Thursday. The temperature is expected to rise to a high of 40 degrees.
The Aiken Department of Public Safety called in additional emergency, law enforcement and fire personnel to deal with the dire situation.
“There are lots of tree branches down, and the road conditions are extremely slick,” said Lt. Jake Mahoney. “We're encouraging people to keep an eye on their neighbors, especially the elderly. Our advice is to just hang in there and stay off the roads.”
The Aiken County Sheriff's Office also increased its manpower.
“Normally, a patrol shift runs about 15 people,” said Capt. Eric Abdullah. “Now, we have 25 to 30 people who are patrolling, responding to calls and assisting as needed. The sheriff is out and about assisting citizens, as well.”
Aiken County Public Works Director John Dyches reported that two of his three backhoe crews were busy working on Wednesday morning to keep streets clear of trees and tree limbs.
“The priority is to get them out of the roadways,” he said. “We'll do the cleanup later. The main objective is to just make sure traffic can get through in case there is an emergency. We'll come back later when it's safer to remove everything from the shoulders of the roads.”
Dyches also discussed the problems he was seeing while driving around Aiken.
“Richland Avenue is peppered with tree limbs, and it's the same way on Park Avenue,” he said. “There are also a lot of limbs on the parkways. I know there is a tree down over near Chukker Creek, and there are places on Pine Log Road and Highway 421 that are hot spots. I'm driving along the 118 bypass right now near USC Aiken, and there is slush on the road.”
The entire state of South Carolina was under a state of emergency that had been declared by Gov. Nikki Haley on Tuesday.
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.