The Fives: Stranded motorists, tragedy beneath the bridge and trouble at Wal-Mart

2008-11-13T23:00:00Z The Fives: Stranded motorists, tragedy beneath the bridge and trouble at Wal-MartTodd Williams, Journal staff Rapid City Journal
November 13, 2008 11:00 pm  • 

Last week's blizzard is the story that just keeps on giving.

We get our share of blizzards, but early November blizzards tend to be a bit rare in these parts. And those that create 8 foot drifts will always get our attention. The aftermath of the storm continues to roll out throughout the region as folks in rural parts of western South Dakota remain without power, snow removal efforts continue to roll on and the heavy wet snow takes it toll on buildings.

In a rare feat, the top six stories of the week are all storm related. Apparently, people weren't looking for relief from blizzard stories, they were just looking for more stories.

Don't worry. I suspect there's still a few more on the way.

Top Five Stories

1. I-90 littered with abandoned vehicles

Despite days of advance warning and hundreds of motorists ran into big trouble during Thursday's powerful blizzard. Whether it was on I-90 or on city streets, emergency responders had their hands full as heavy snow and 60 mph winds made roads impassable nearly everywhere west of Murdo.

2. Body of woman found under Sixth Street bridge identified

Found Friday under the Sixth Street Bridge, Delores Mesteth never made it in out of the storm. Stories like these are haunting and tragic but also point to a reality most people wish to avoid - the bridges provide shelter for a significant population of homeless in Rapid City. And in a volatile climate such as Rapid City's, that can be downright dangerous.

3. Rapid City, other schools closed Friday

Not even a story. Just a listing of schools that announced on Thursday that they would be closed on Friday.

It might have been easier to do a listing of schools that were actually going to have classes than not.

4. Blizzard cuts power to more than 13,000

Another story that is sure to keep giving, thousands of people lost power throughout the Hills and western South Dakota after the wet snow clung to power lines and the high winds snapped poles like toothpicks out on the open prairie.

Rural electric co-ops were probably hit hardest. But if you followed Rapid Reply, most of the complaints (a good number that had to be rejected by editors) were coming from city dwellers and those living in the urban interface.

5. Spearfish Wal-Mart roof collapses

And speaking of stories that just keep giving. Another storm, another sagging roof at the Spearfish Wal-Mart.

A few years ago, a partial collapse of the roof forced the store to close for a few days and cost the store about $1 million in lost merchandise and repairs.

There's still no word on when the store will reopen, but when it does, I say take a look at the roof and see if you can get a little better slope on it.

Top Five Videos

1. Blizzard Hits Rapid City and Black Hills

Intrepid photographers head out into the elements to interview, well, people who headed out into the elements during last week's blizzard. I get a bit of a chill just watching it.

2. First Major Storm

Videographer Tim Appel couldn't make it into the Journal office from his home in Black Hawk, but that didn't prevent him from rolling up some footage of the blizzard and providing readers with an update on the wicked early season storm.

3. Butte County hit hard by blizzard

The hardest hit areas by last week's storm are the more rural areas, and Kristina Barker caught power crews doing the difficult job of trying to restore power. It makes me all the more thankful for my desk job.

4. Little Mommy Doll Says What?

Who would have thunk that Fisher Price would create a doll that's an agent of Islam?

Well, two women in Mitchell, that's who. They even got the doll removed from some store shelves there.

But when the Journal's online deparment's Tim Appel and Crystal Hohenthaner hit the streets to ask folks what they heard when the baby began to coo, the best that most folks could come up with was "mama."

It's worth noting that this video was the only nonstorm-related story or video to make it into the top five this week.

5. Plowing the snow and slush in Rapid City

Did I mention there was a storm in these parts last week?

Rapid Reply of the Week

It's official: I'm turning into a cranky old man.

I knew I had the old thing down pat, but the cranky has been a work in progress. The way I can tell the metamorphisis is complete was my reaction to the nearly 200 comments on the story about the Fisher-Price doll that was pulled off some store shelves in Mitchell because a couple of people thought the doll uttered "Islam is the light."

The story and accompanying video certainly sparked a healthy debate on Rapid Reply crossing several topics of interest including religious diversity and tolerance, psychology, the free market economy and oh so much more.

But the one I latched on to? Yeah, that's right - the grumpy old man one.

Just Curious wrote on Nov 13, 2008 3:37 PM:

" Does anyone know where I can buy my granddaughter a doll that does not pee, poop, talk, crawl, eat or make any other actions? I would love to find a soft and cuddly baby that she could simply snuggle with. It's too hard to find any kind of toy that does not use batteries or make sounds or play music. The manufacturer of this particular doll has just received some great free advertising. "

Poll of the Week

Two questions that popped into my mind after seeing the results of this poll.

No. 1: Has telecommunication become so prevalent that most people don't have to leave the house to do their daily work? (I, of course, write this while still dressed in my jammies in the comfort of my own bedroom. No snide comments, please.)

No. 2: How many people in the Black Hills so often ignore law enforcement and drive through (or don't and get stuck) weather conditions that are physically unsafe to travel to get in a day of work at businesses that are not life-or-death situations?

How did you spend your snow day?

Cooking/Baking

19 percent

Playing outside

4 percent

Playing inside

26 percent

Shoveling

21 percent

What snow day? I had to work.

31 percent

Editor's pick

Take Too

Talk about self-serving. Part of a realignment of tasks will put me back behind the video camera on a consistent basis.

Although still a little loose in concept, one of the things I plan to do is a weekly video column of sorts. It will still be based on news items most of the times, but to call it a news story would be far overstating its general value.

This week, I headed up to what I consider the town where I grew up, Deadwood, to see how snow removal was going. A number of bloggers, in responding to stories about snow removal in Rapid City, brought up the historic town as a prime example of how it should be done.

A couple of examples include:

LeadDeadwood on 11/11/2008 09:52:35 said:

"I think Mr. Hanks needs to sit down with Lead and Deadwood and figure out how they are able to keep their roads clean and they are a SMALLER town than we are with a smaller budget-- waaaaay smaller. It's work smarter not harder! But thank you for the four day weekend

Sturgis on 11/11/2008 09:11:53 said:

"If you think the snow removal is bad in Rapid City, you should drive up to Sturgis. Most of the streets are single lane and the plows have not been out since Friday. They didn't even work over the weekend and I don't think they did anything on Monday either. I finally saw one plow out this morning. Ridiculous!!! Deadwood had twice as much snow as anybody else and their streets are CLEAR!!!"

My general experience in growing up there and having covered the town as an editor at the dailies in Lead and Spearfish through the 1990s is that it is generally true: The Deadwood crews are really, really good at getting the streets clean.

So I was a bit surprised when I heard that they were still removing snow through this week. Of course, it was a 4 foot snow, but that isn't uncommon in the Northern Hills. Sometimes, they just call it March.

To find out what the deal was and to see the snow first hand, I headed up the Hill to talk to Deadwood Public Works direction Jim Raysor and get a handle on how bad the storm was.

It was a whopper. Frank Pavich, a longtime Lead-Deadwood resident with whom I attended high school with way back in the early 1980s, said he hadn't seen anything like it since the early fall 1982 storm that shut down the community for a full week. And after seeing the snow, I had to agree.

But back to how the tiny town was able to clear the main streets by the end of the day last Friday and have residential streets completely opened by Thursday of this week.

Raysor says the key ingredient is sticking to the plan. Part of that plan includes running plows during the storm to keep routes open enough to go and get reinforcements to clear the roads once the storm subsides. As Raysor put it, "We were out there in the storm. Don't get me wrong, we were losing, but we were out there."

Of course, the other is long hours. The crews have been at it at least from 3 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily since the day the blizzard blew in, which is a long day, especially when you're working in heavy equipment.

Another key ingredient that Raysor didn't talk about but a few Rapid Repliers did: Deadwood puts a lot of money behind their efforts. It's hard to argue. Casino owners, who are the lifeblood of the local economy, certainly drive that train. And for excellent snow removal, it does take money.

At the same time, I don't recall a time when snow removal in Deadwood was anything but excellent, and that includes the pre-gambling days. Perhaps tradition, skill, work ethic AND money combine to provide for what Raysor calls the best snow removal crews in the country. Who am I to argue.

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