LIMA — Simply put, “The Ice Storm of ’05,” which happened 10 years ago this week, was one of those storms you don’t forget.
Its ferocity would see nearly 75,000 houses in the region lose power and heat, including 82 percent of those in Allen County. Eight days would go by before power was completely restored to everyone, during which time temperatures would dip to as low as 23 degrees, with five straight days of low temperatures below 30 degrees.
Four people would lose their lives, all in their 70s or 80s, with each death the result of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by generators being used to help heat their home.
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 5:
People knew we were “in for some weather,” as they like to say in West Central Ohio, when schools across the region began delaying, then canceling classes, because of sleet slicked roads. Grocery stores saw the usual crowd buying food and other items as a precautionary measure, but few people thought much about it. After all, none of this was out of the ordinary when it came to winter storms. It was a typical scene that played out many times before.
That changed when nightfall arrived.
The temperatures in the sky had warmed enough to turn the moisture into a pounding rain, yet at ground level, the temperatures remained below freezing. A recipe for disaster was about to unfold.
The Lima metropolitan area was spray-painted with anywhere from a half an inch to an inch and a half of ice, causing electrical transformers to explode throughout the evening, each one lighting the sky with a blue puff of smoke. Tree limbs snapped like toothpicks from the weight of the ice, often falling on houses or motor vehicles. In one case a nearly 200-year-old oak tree toppled onto a house at 156 N. Glenwood Ave. in Lima, trapping a teenager who had been asleep in his bed. It took hours to free him and he was taken to the hospital with a broken pelvis.
American Electric Power sent 100 technicians into the darkness, only to see most retreat because of the dangerous conditions.
“The rain was falling so hard at some times that visibility was reduced,” said Shelly DiMattio of AEP.
THURSDAY, Jan. 6
At first light, the enormity of what had happened overnight was transparent under the now ice-covered, glass-like landscape. The National Weather Service reported the Lima Metropolitan area was at the center of the storm, with heavy damage extending into Auglaize, Mercer, Hardin and Logan counties. Ohio Gov. Bob Taft immediately put the area under a state of emergency.
By day’s end, the Lima Fire Department would field more than 100 calls, many which involved downed power lines and others involving fires.
Mayor David Berger and police asked residents to check on neighbors. “Knock on the doors … make sure your neighbors are well,” he pleaded.
Patients rolled into area hospitals, some with injuries and others who were just cold.
“We are going to get overwhelmed. We can’t send patients home because they have no where to go,” warned Dr. William Tucker, medical director of the emergency department at St. Rita’s Medical Center.
Across town, Lima Memorial Health System had a number of cases of carbon monoxide poisoning from people improperly using kerosene heaters and generators, spokesperson Lynn Carpenter said.
Without power, people knew they had to make the most of daylight hours.
They began cleaning debris and scrambled to find open stores to buy food, batteries and other supplies. Generators priced from between $400 to $1,500, depending on their size and output, were selling out quickly as residents learned it could be more than a week before power was restored. Long lines saw people waiting up to an hour to purchase kerosene or gasoline.
AEP, meanwhile, had called in crews from West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia to assist in restoring power.
Different weather patterns hop-scotched the region outside of Allen County.
In some areas, the heavy rains didn’t form into an ice storm but instead brought worries about flooding. The Blanchard River in Findlay was expected to crest at 12 feet above flood stage. The Great Miami River was 3 to 6 inches above its banks at one point near Sidney.
Mercer County faced both flooding and power outages. Snow caused havoc in Logan County and about a half inch of ice coated Auglaize, Hardin and Van Wert counties, causing sporadic power outages.
Ironically, Putnam County — usually a magnet for bad weather — escaped the horrors, receiving just a little snow.
FRIDAY, Jan. 7
In Lima, more than 23,000 homes remained without power and the number grew to 50,000 across the region. More than 900 AEP and contracted personnel were now in the region trying to restore power as Taft’s state of emergency declaration now covered more than half of Ohio.
Russ Decker, director of the Allen County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, urged people to take advantage of shelters located around the region.
Meanwhile, people did what they could to cope. They kept groceries outdoors where it was cold and used kerosene heaters and outdoor fire pits to warm up food.
While the Lima Mall remained closed, other businesses began to open. Suppliers from Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland and Allentown, Pennsylvania, shipped generators, kerosene and other supplies to DeHaven Home and Garden Showplace in Lima.
“We ran out of kerosene and about 25 people waited an hour for more. People were patient,” John DeHaven said.
Saturday Jan. 8
Sunday, Jan. 9
Hours before crews were ready to start removing debris on Saturday, Mother Nature came through again, this time dumping 2 to 5 inches of snow across the region. The city canceled cleanup plans and the weight of the snow created additional outages during the day.
“We took a step backward,” Decker said.
People were also quickly learning that while AEP would fix electrical transformers and downed power lines between transformers, it would not fix power lines running to houses. Private contractors needed to be hired for that work.
The warmer temperatures Sunday created additional problems. More limbs from trees were either falling, or limbs weighted down by the ice were now springing back upward and knocking out power lines in the process.
As of Sunday, 44,832 houses were still without power.
MONDAY, Jan. 10
Hundreds of people showed up at the Allen County Department of Jobs and Family Services as the state released $225,000 to low-income people seeking emergency assistance.
City crews remained busy clearing brush from streets.
TUESDAY, Jan. 11
All schools reopened, with the exception of Lima City Schools. Most of the regions shelters were closed. AEP still had 5,000 outages in Allen County, with 90 percent of customers now restored.
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 12
Melting ice and 2 inches of rain had people concerned with flooding. The Ottawa, St. Marys, Auglaize, Great Miami and Blanchard rivers all were over the banks as well as countless ditches and creeks.
Resident Mike Wake, of Delphos, posted a “No Wake” sign in front of his house to encourage people to drive their cars slower. People in Wapakoneta and Columbus Grove were filling sandbags to deal with high water. Rising water also created problems along Grand Lake.
“We’ve had just about every weather situation you can have — deep snow, ice storm, heavy rains. All we need now is a tornado,” Geary Wesel, of St. Marys, said.
THURSDAY, Jan. 13
AEP, which brought in more than 1,000 workers from around the country, announced power was restored to all customers. Among the last to receive power was John and Mary Norman, on Meadow Lane in Shawnee.
“The power of prayer and God have helped us over many things we can’t control. … I don’t know what a person would do without help or good neighbors,” John Norman said.
In the following 90 days, about 500 miles of roads were traveled by clean-up crews hauling away debris.