LITTLE ROCK — As Arkansans struggled to recover from a devastating Christmas day snowstorm, weather forecasters said another round of sleet and rain was likely to move through the central part of the state Thursday night into Friday.
After that, temperatures are expected to rise into the 40s with drier conditions, said Marty Trexler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Roads across the state were still icy and slick Thursday as crews from Entergy Arkansas worked to restore electricity to some of the 133,900 customers still without power, about 57,500 of them in Little Rock, because of damage that the ice and snow that blanketed much of the state Tuesday. More than 190,000 were in the dark at the height of the storm.
For the second day in a row, Gov. Mike Beebe ordered all state government offices closed in the Little Rock area Thursday, with only essential personnel told to be at work. State offices are to reopen Friday but state employees will have an extra two hours to report to work because of potentially icy road conditions.
Trexler said temperatures Friday would be at or below freezing , with icy rain or sleet likely, mostly in the Little Rock area. A dusting of snow is possible in northern Arkansas and rain to the south, he said.
“It should be a fairly small amount, although anything at this point will cause some dangerous conditions and potentially slow down the restoration of power in locations across Arkansas,” Trexler said.
State police spokesman Bill Sadler said troopers were busy Thursday working traffic accidents across the state. Particularly bad areas were U.S. 70 from Interstate 30 to Hot Springs and U.S. 270 west of Hot Springs, he said.
“It appears the biggest amount of activity on the highways right now involves motorists who become a little too anxious thinking the worst is over and they will hit a stretch of ice and before they know it they are sideways in the median or off in the ditch,” Sadler said. “Some people are a little anxious about trying to get to where they needed to be yesterday and the day before.”
He said all interstate routes through the state were much improved, but Randy Ort, spokesman for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, said better roads meant more congestion. He warned drivers to slow down and use caution. The interstates and highways are passable, but not all lanes are open yet, he said.
“Traffic has increased tremendously over what was out (Wednesday),” Ort said. “Even though we’ve got the roads pretty clear for the most part, there are still patches of ice and a lot of these roads here in Central Arkansas, for example the multi-lane interstate highways, we don’t have all the lanes clear, so we’ve got a little bit reduced capacity.”
Entergy spokesman David Lewis said crews from outside the region were arriving in the state to help with power restoration.
He said it could be early next week before some of the “worst hit areas” in Little Rock, Malvern and Hot Springs have their power restored.
“We’ve got a lot of extra workers either here or on their way here and we’re certainly hopeful any new weather doesn’t impede travel, but if it does that will slow everything down, not only travel getting them here but getting around just to get to where the repairs are,” he said.
Meanwhile, several community centers and at least one church in central Arkansas were serving as shelters Thursday for people with no electricity in their homes, said Bridget Williams, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross of Greater Arkansas. The Red Cross was providing cots, blankets, food and drink at some locations and just food and drink at others.
The Northside Church of Christ in Benton began taking people in Wednesday and had 32 people taking shelter there Thursday afternoon. Some had cots to sleep on and some were using chairs pushed together.
The church also was allowing people to come in and charge electronic devices.
“With social media and everything, that’s a big deal for people,” said Associate Minister Tony Stowers.
A West Virginia native who has lived in Arkansas for two years, Stowers said it was strange to see 9 inches of snow paralyze a community.
West Virginians are “more used to it and better prepared,” he said. “But from everything I’ve read, this is kind of a historic event. It’s hard to be prepared for historic events.”
The Bishop Park Community Center in Bryant began taking people in Wednesday and had about 40 to 50 people there Thursday afternoon. People were passing time by watching movies, playing board and card games and chatting.
“They’re just happy to have food and a warm place to be,” said Joe Valdez, facility operator.
The Jacksonville Community Center began taking people in Tuesday. By Thursday afternoon about 35 people were sheltered at the center, which opened its basketball court so people could pass time by playing ball.
The mood Thursday was “upbeat, for the situation,” said Kristen Kennon, director of the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department.
Also providing shelter Thursday were the North Little Rock Community Center and the Old Crowley’s Ridge Building in Augusta.
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Reporter John Lyon contributed to this report.
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