Let it snow and snow and snow


Contributing writer

Residents bunkered down for another long, wintry weekend after ice and snow continued to make an impact on the area, leaving many citizens in the dark.

Hillsboro Public Library served as a shelter of sorts for residents eager to find a place out of the cold as well as a place to catch up on the latest community news and weather.

Jeanie Bartel, clerk and librarian, described the storm's impact on the residents who use the library day-to-day as a place to connect, keep warm, and stay informed.

"On Wednesday, we were planning to be closed," Bartel said. "However, when the head librarian arrived to check on the fish and take care of things, there were people wanting to come in. So she opened the doors.

"It was an extremely busy day."

Bartel noted that library users mainly came for access to the Internet or to read a magazine, book, or newspaper. There also was a high volume of check-outs, as residents who had lost or were wary of losing power, looked for non-electronic means of entertainment to keep both children and adults occupied.

Bartel was working Thursday and witnessed the lines of people waiting to use three computers that are set up for Internet access were double the number of patrons as on a regular day.

"We were swamped," she said.

Bartel, who lives on a farm between Hillsboro and Durham, described her property as surrounded by downed power lines and poles.

"We were told it would be weeks before (the electricity) would be back on," Bartel said, later noting that a Flint Hills Rural Electric Cooperative representative estimated four weeks at the very least before power would be restored.

The Bartels were able to use their farm's generator to heat their house, but were still without hot water. After locking up the library Friday, Bartel was headed to the town's coin laundry.

Bartel remained optimistic, even as it put a damper on weekend and holiday plans for her family.

"We're debating about whether or not to put up the Christmas tree because we probably won't turn on the lights . . . It's sad, but there are things that are more important," she said. "We are warm, we have heat, and we are fortunate. It could be a lot worse."

Hillsboro City Administrator Larry Paine held the same view when it came to the effect of the earlier storm on Hillsboro residents.

"I would say that this is remarkable, the way (city crews) handled this particular emergency," he said.

Because of a weeks-long tree-trimming campaign, the city had no outages from city lines. However, secondary lines running to individual properties were another matter.

"We lost quite a few (lines) because property owners weren't taking care of their trees," Paine said. "When man gets in the way of nature, nature wins — every time."

Paine expected to spend this week working with Dale Dalke, director of public works, to keep roads cleared and traffic moving.

"Dale and I will be figuring out how to handle the storm, how much removal to do, and how much to let Mother Nature remove," Paine said, noting that temperatures for this week are forecast to be in the 40s and 50s.


In Lehigh, residents have been without power since Dec. 10.

The outage brought extra trials to the small town of approximately 210 residents, where, as resident Wendy Jost noted, one-third of the population is children, one-third is elderly, and the rest are "taxpayers."

Resident Berniece Bartel, who is 91, experienced a minor garage fire caused by a downed wire, waiting two hours to call the volunteer fire crew and then five hours for representatives of Westar Energy to come and turn off the electricity feeding the fire.

"In our typical Lehigh way, the firefighters came and the ladies who were in town that day all went home and made casseroles," said Jost. "We just wanted to make sure everybody was covered . . . had a house to go to, someplace to sleep, or a warm meal."

Jost, a member of the parks and recreation committee and wife to city councilman Todd Jost, helped organize a group of volunteers from Ebenfeld Mennonite Brethren Church who moved tree limbs and shoveled driveways Sunday morning.

Vaughn Jost, associate pastor of Ebenfeld, came up with this way of "putting feet to faith" after contemplating the idea of his rural church, which already had canceled a week's worth of activities due to the outages, as "the church without power."

The "powerless" church found power through serving Sunday morning, as the entire congregation met to fellowship, hear teaching from Scripture, then do several indoor and outdoor service projects which included the crew of volunteers who cleaned up the streets of Lehigh.

Lehigh's story ended on a sad note for those who have been following the saga of the small town's quest to have a Main Street lighted with Christmas lights after many years with no decoration.

According to Michael Geiman, mayor of Lehigh, the project is done for the year.

"It's one of those things that the weather and the situation is more important than the lights," said Geiman.

Still, Geiman is proud of his town's efforts to make their Christmas spirit evident to surrounding communities.

"In a town the size of Lehigh, I have to tell residents, 'You're the city, folks, if something's going to get done, someone's going to have to step up.'"

According to Geiman, that's exactly what happened when volunteers stepped out to bring lights and decorations to the city. As for the lights?

"We'll for sure get them up next year."