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St. Clairsville making plans for a harsh winter

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Memories of February’s freezing temperatures, snow and ice storms are still strong in St. Clairsville, where bitter cold, hazardous conditions and loss of power impacted many vulnerable residents.

Now a plan is in the works in case similar conditions arise in the coming winter.

“I shudder when I think about it. I don’t want to see it happen again,” Mayor Kathryn Thalman said.

During the last ice storm, many individuals and businesses took the initiative to provide food and transportation to residents in need of a place to keep warm.

“They were heroes. I was begging food and drink from restaurants, and they all gave so wonderfully. The fire department and our police department went door-to-door getting older people, bringing them down to the rec center. Again, we all did what we needed done, but now we know if something happened like that again, we’ve got a better idea how to handle it and who to call first,” Thalman said.

“That was the first time that ever happened to us. Could we have done some things differently? Sure. But you do the best you can with what you have, and the time deficit because the storm was right on us, but I’m very proud of everybody in our city, the way they stepped up to the plate,” Thalman said.

She has met with officials from the Cumberland Trail Fire District and the Belmont County Emergency Management Agency, as well as Recreation Director Eric Gay.

The J.B. Martin Recreation Center was of use as an impromptu shelter last winter, but since it lacks a generator and other facilities it cannot be considered an official warming center.

“We just want to have another plan of attack so that everybody is prepared for it,” Gay said. “We have a plan. We know what’s going to happen before the day of. Last (February) we did it because it’s the right thing to do. This (winter) we still want to do it because it’s the right thing to do, but we want to be more prepared.”

“We had a very good discussion about what we need to do to mitigate another weather disaster like we had (in February),” Thalman said. “Even though the city hasn’t got an ‘official’ warming site or shelter, we will be having things stored like bottles of water, paper products, if this should ever happen again, so we’ve got a clear chain of command and I really appreciate all of them taking their time so we can keep our citizens as safe as possible.”

City leaders had discussed the possibility of obtaining a generator for the recreation center but were unable to make progress; however, there are two other options, both outside the city on U.S. 40.

“What we did was kind of put a protocol together, and the first protocol is if something like this happens – and that was an extraordinarily bad storm – the official warming center is at Friendship Church. It’s the Ickes Family (Life) Center because they have showers, and they have a generator. So if we have a travesty of power going out again and people can get there, that is the preferred first place, because they are set to deal with possibly overnight,” Thalman said.

The center is located at 67880 Friends Church Road, off U.S. 40 west of St. Clairsville, and can be reached at 740-695-1991.

“People in the east part of town, the high school in Bridgeport is the other shelter,” she said. “Those are the two others.”

Bridgeport High School is located at 55707 Industrial Drive, Bridgeport, and can be reached at 740-635-0853.

She said in the event of an emergency, the first step for the city is contacting the Red Cross.

“If we ever needed cots or anything again, the EMA would help us, but we’ve kind of got a chain of command,” Thalman said.

Officials with the church could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Bridgeport Exempted Village Schools District Superintendent Brent Ripley said the high school gymnasium has a capacity of 600.

“If we have a calamity, we’ll let them come in and warm up if our power’s on, absolutely. … We have some shower and locker room areas as well,” Ripley said, adding that the generator is only powerful enough to provide for basic necessities. “In the event we lose power, the only thing our generator operates is our IT … our freezer and walk-in cooler for our cafeteria and some basic lights.”

Ripley said the public would be notified by a district app, all-call and text message should the district be able to act as a warming shelter.

The fire district and EMA also could not be reached for comment.

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