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A blue address sign is barely visible in a mound of snow. This has been slowing emergency personnel. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Snow wreaks havoc in emergencies

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A foot plus of new snow has jump-started businesses in the Great White North, a.k.a. Hubbard County.

Others, not so much.

While skiers, snowshoers, ice anglers and snowmobilers are out in force, mail carriers, meter readers, gas deliverers and emergency responders have been slowed by mountains of white.

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And in some cases it could be a matter of life and death.

"We follow the blue numbers and you know you're getting close, you're getting closer, but by the time you see the next one and you've gone too far now you've got to turn around during a blizzard," said Hubbard First Responder Jason Johnson.

"We got stuck about 15 times that night of the blizzard (Dec. 30) because these trucks are horrible in snow. And then trying to get turned around and backed up, you're just delaying time."

The blue emergency response address markers are part of the county's enhanced 911 system to locate victims in an emergency.

Johnson said having those markers obscured by snow makes it difficult for ambulance personnel.

"When you're plowing your driveway you can pile it up as high as you want as long as we can see the blue number from the road," he said. "We need to keep our response time as fast as we can make it."

County commissioners pointed out during their first meeting Tuesday it is the homeowner's responsibility to keep the address posts visible.

But mailboxes have fallen victim to the merciless weather, too.

"I've had calls on mailboxes," Hubbard County commissioner Dick Devine told Public Works Superintendent Dave Olsonawski at Tuesday's board meeting. Olsonawski nodded in agreement.

"A number of mailboxes went down last weekend because of the amount of snow we had to push," Olsonawski acknowledged.

"It's the responsibility of the landowner to make mailboxes accessible."

"It's been a tough couple of weeks," said Park Rapids Postmaster Denice Phillips-Kunze.

"It's really, really important" to shovel out mailboxes well.

"The rural carriers don't get out of their vehicles. They don't get out or they'd never get done," she said.

It's the homeowner's responsibility to make sure carriers have drive-up access to mailboxes.

"People sometimes just shovel a little narrow path so they (postal deliverers) can walk to it but that does nothing," Phillips-Kunze said.

"A lot of mailboxes have been knocked down," she added. "The weight of the snow knocks them off. It is the homeowner's responsibility, then, to get a new one, as much as I hate to say it."

Many mailboxes are "swing-away" models that are supposed to swivel around when a plow comes by. But Olsonawski said some are getting old and the bolts are rusty so they're immobile.

They need repair.

In 1992 the county adopted a policy that "during snowplowing operations along county highways Hubbard County will not be responsible for damage to non-standard mailbox support installations. If the installation is a standard swing away mailbox support and damage is caused to the vertical support by direct contact of the snowplow equipment, then Hubbard County will repair or replace the support with a standard swing away mailbox support as soon as possible."

Olsonawski said the county has been replacing some support poles where plows mowed them down.

But in cases of aging supports and rusty bolts, the county may not be so lenient, Olsonawski said.

"I watched a mail carrier" try to pull up to a mailbox, commissioner Cal Johannsen said. "She didn't have 10-foot-long arms so she went on by."

Gas deliverers are also affected by the new conditions. They are trudging through heavy snow and on slippery hills to reach customers' propane tanks.

LP companies are asking customers to shovel a path to the tank.

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ssmit

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers Hubbard County, courts and breaking news.

(218) 732-3364
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