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Al Key

Thawing ice a hazard

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Staff reports
The roof collapsed on a carwash on University Drive from the weight of the ice that had accumulated.Photo courtesy of Scott L. Campbell
The roof collapsed on a carwash on University Drive from the weight of the ice that had accumulated.
Photo courtesy of Scott L. Campbell

The long-awaited thaw brought falling sheets of ice and other hazards to winter-weary residents as conditions in the Denton area began to get back to normal.

Large sheets of ice began falling from homes and businesses, roofs continued to collapse from the weight of the ice and at least one large business sign crashed into a parking lot as warming temperatures finally began to melt the inches of accumulated ice.

Most area schools were planning to be back in session today, although officials in the Denton school district and other districts indicated they could remain closed if icy conditions deteriorated overnight. Some were considering late starts but had not formalized plans by press time.

The University of North Texas opened at noon Wednesday so that end-of-semester final exams could begin five days late, but more than 7,000 students signed an online petition asking that they be allowed to take finals online.

On area roadways, blocks of ice were blowing off of vehicles and onto other traffic, creating a different sort of road hazard than what had been seen the past five days.

“It’s everywhere,” said Jody Gonzalez, Denton County’s emergency management coordinator. “Flying off the top of their roof, hitting the cars behind them. It’s a traffic hazard and an issue with it falling off buildings.”

In Lewisville, Assistant Fire Chief Terry McGrath said two people were transported to area hospitals with injuries sustained after a carport collapsed Wednesday afternoon from the weight of the ice, in the 500 block of Pine Street.

Gonzalez said numerous slips and falls had been recorded, but Denton authorities said no serious injuries were reported. In Sanger, a school administrator was hit on the head by ice that fell from Butterfield Elementary School, but was not seriously injured, school officials said.

Hazard tape was used to cordon off some buildings where falling ice was a potential hazard, and Gonzalez cautioned drivers not to follow too closely behind other vehicles to avoid being hit by flying ice.

Gonzalez said he saw ice come off a vehicle and flip end over end before landing about three feet behind another vehicle.

Some ice still remained in shady areas and under bridges, and Gonzalez warned commuters to be careful this morning after another night of freezing temperatures.

“Under the bridge is where the morning commute could be dangerous,” he said. “Ice melts on top of the bridge down to the road under it and refreezes. You have to use as much caution going under the overpass as you would going over it.”

The National Weather Service issued a hazardous weather outlook for Denton County and the rest of North and Central Texas through 11 a.m. today because of new threats of ice on area roadways.

Patchy freezing fog is possible across the region and could create a thin coating of ice on the roadways, according to the advisory.


Cleanup underway

State and local road crews were still working on clearing the last bit of ice on local roadways Wednesday. And officials said they will continue the cleanup process throughout the week to clear areas where the ice is the thickest and is taking longer to melt.

State and county road officials and county emergency service personnel said once the remaining ice melts, they will begin assessing damage costs.

“I am sure as the week continues, we will discover lots of potholes, cracks, etc.,” said Mike Riley, a bridge and road administrative official for Denton County. “And soon as the ice is gone, we will be addressing them.”

Texas Department of Public Safety officials report that conditions across the state have improved significantly and most state agency resources have been demobilized.

And though temperatures were expected to fall below freezing overnight again and early this morning, officials don’t expect ice to be a concern through the rest of the week.

As for the rest of the region affected by the icy storm, Wednesday marked the transition from an emergency response to more of a cleanup and pavement repair mode, said Ryan LaFontaine, a Texas Department of Transportation spokesman.

“We have contacted our sweeper and pavement repair contractors, and we have started issuing work requests today,” he said.

He added that the state’s contracted firms have been contacted to begin additional repairs this week.


Schools and universities

The bad weather hit in time for finals week at the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University.

For TWU, the entire exam schedule for Tuesday was moved to Friday, and Wednesday’s test schedule was moved to Saturday with some changes. Many exams will be offered online, based on the preference of the professors.

At UNT, the changes were less clear and prompted more than 7,000 students to sign an online petition to make all final exams available online.

Online graduate student Heather Presley created the petition after seeing several problems and complaints about the schedule, which kept changing as weather delays caused exams to repeatedly be pushed back this week.

She remembers commuting as an undergraduate after the ice storm in 2011 and sympathizes with current students.

“I was lucky that our bad weather never involved finals week, but I was there during [the 2011 storm] and I remember how much of a mess it was,” she said. “I have friends that are still commuters and are still students, and I can’t imagine what they’re going through with all of this and having to study for finals.”

On Wednesday, Provost Warren Burggren sent an e-mail to the UNT community about rescheduling finals, noting that hosting all finals online would be a challenge for professors and could crash the system.

Students who now have overlapping exams, more than two exams on a single day or an exam after they have made definitive travel plans, Burggren said, should communicate with their professors to schedule a make-up exam. Those impacted will not be penalized, he said.

For students who don’t fall into the categories for exceptions, the finals schedule is still inconvenient. Jessica Scriven, a senior who signed the petition, said studying this week has been a challenge because the schedule keeps changing. She will now have to miss her best friend’s graduation.

“The constant changing of the exam schedule has made it much more difficult to study for our final exams,” she wrote in an e-mail from the library, where she was studying. “Not knowing what final we should be studying for until the last minute has caused much unnecessary stress. I believe that as a result of this finals ‘week’ being condensed to three days, our grades will suffer.”

Staff writers Bj Lewis, John D. Harden, Megan Gray, Jenna Duncan and Britney Tabor contributed to this report.