The chilling effect on daily routines

January 21, 1994|By Alan J. Craver and Mark Guidera | Alan J. Craver and Mark Guidera,Staff Writers Staff writers Lan Nguyen, James M. Coram, Sherry Joe and Ed Heard contributed to this story.

Cooksville farmers Randy and Chip Ridgely had to bring a newborn calf into their home when it nearly froze to death Saturday night because of the frigid weather that has socked the area this week.

"It was in the family room with electric blankets on," said Randy Ridgely, whose family operates a 200-acre farm off Route 97.

The Ridgelys used hair dryers to thaw the animal's hide. They kept the calf in their home for about 24 hours.

The calf, back with its mother in the barn, is doing fine. But two other newborn calves were not so lucky at the Ridgely farm -- they froze to death shortly after unexpected outdoor deliveries this week.

The Ridgelys' was just one of the many hardships brought on by a week of snow, sleet, freezing rain, blustery winds and frigid temperatures.

The weather has caused a slew of mostly minor traffic accidents, spills on icy sidewalks, and closings brought about by slick roads and requests from Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. to conserve energy.

Howard County General Hospital reported more than 100 weather-related injuries since Tuesday, when many residents began seeking treatment for broken wrists, lacerations, and other injuries incurred in falls to the icy ground.

Emergency staff have "been continuously busy, especially with falls," hospital spokesman John F. Walker said.

At Columbia Medical Plan, a health maintenance organization off Thunderhill Road in Columbia, weather-related injuries represent half of all urgent-care visits this week.

"The combination of rain and ice has been particularly treacherous," said Dr. Mitchell Kaminski, chief of Family Practice and Urgent Care at Columbia Medical Plan. "Ice is particularly deceptive."

Health officials advised people to wear boots with good traction when traveling outdoors; children were warned to avoid sledding down ice-covered hills where control is difficult and emergency medical technicians have a tough time reaching the injured.

The total number of accidents reported to police was not available yesterday, but a spokesman said Wednesday's accidents typified the week. There were 87 calls Wednesday of traffic hazards -- which could include fallen trees, branches and powerless traffic signals.

Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services has handled about 140 calls a day this week, three times the normal volume of calls. Most incidents involved broken water pipes and ice-related injuries.

The weather wreaked havoc on the routine: Some of the county's trash and recycling collection rounds have been combined with next week's services; government meetings were canceled; and court hearings were postponed.

The county's 34,300 students and 2,500 teachers have been given the week off. The teachers don't have to show for today's scheduled professional workday, when they are given time to plan lessons and grade tests.

Saturday's Scholastic Assessment Tests for students in Howard and Frederick counties have been postponed. Students will be sent letters informing them of the new testing date.

County government will continue its liberal leave policy for its 1,800 employees today, except for those in essential jobs such as fire, police and some utility workers, administrators said.

Crews walked through county buildings last night to make sure lights were out and thermostats were turned back to 55 degrees to conserve energy. Workers will toil in chilly buildings today, with thermostats held at 65 degrees.

From Monday to Wednesday, road crews logged 1,735 hours of overtime, officials said. Crews used 6,042 gallons of fuel while spreading 1,760 tons of salt, 2,226 tons of cinders and 100 bags of calcium chloride.

Robert Beringer, county Bureau of Utilities chief, said his team of 78 personnel has been working overtime and rotating shifts to handle the influx of calls this week. In the four-day period since Monday, the bureau has received 400 calls.

On Wednesday night alone, workers reponded to 160 calls, many of them from residents who returned home to find they had no water. Yesterday, another 52 people called complaining that their pipes had split and were pouring water.

While brutal weather may have forced the closing of some local businesses, others are reaping benefits.

Just ask Frank Bonsu, owner of Columbia Cab, one of two taxi services serving Howard. He has been at work around the clock since 7 a.m. Wednesday, attempting to handle the surge in customers hailing a taxi.

"My drivers are the courageous ones," said Mr. Bonsu.

Mr. Bonsu estimates he and his dispatchers took about 200 calls for rides between 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and 11 a.m. Thursday -- double the normal load. At one point the cab service had 100 calls backed up for taxi service.

Most calls yesterday morning were from people hoping to catch rides to work, while Wednesday night's calls were mostly from drivers who abandoned their vehicles on icy roads, according to Mr. Bonsu.

"On top of it all, our heating went off so I had to move the office to my home" in Columbia, he said.

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