Photo by Audrey Jackson
The city of Searcy experienced the impact of a winter storm that spread across Arkansas last week, leading the community to respond accordingly.
Snow and ice covered the grounds of Searcy early in the morning of Thursday, Feb. 3, causing school officials to close their campuses for the rest of the week. Harding University canceled all campus activities while the Searcy School District and Riverview School District scheduled alternative method of instruction (AMI) days.
The winter storm was comparable to last year’s snow storm in Arkansas, which was more severe as the thick snow remained for nearly a week and schools closed for onsite learning. This time around, much of the snow and ice had melted by Monday.
Searcy School District superintendent Dr. Bobby Hart said the district issued Google Chromebooks and hotspot connections to students in need of them during their days of virtual learning. Hart said the schools were more prepared to respond to the weather since the district has experienced school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the snow storm last year. Onsite learning resumed Monday.
“I think we’re probably a little better prepared just because we’ve been through the experience once,” Hart said.
Mission Machine — a Searcy nonprofit that offers immediate, emergency shelter to those experiencing homelessness — worked to keep people warm during the cold weather. Mike Phifer, director and co-founder of Mission Machine, said Mission Machine was housing nine people as of Feb. 7 in its clinic and camp. These individuals entered these shelters about three weeks ago, and motel rooms were purchased by Mission Machine for five additional people last week, Phifer said.
Phifer said this year’s housing numbers were lower than last year’s numbers, when the weather was a little rougher. However, the experiences showed him that Mission Machine could care for smaller numbers of people without the need of the United Methodist Church’s warming center. Mission Machine has used the warming center in the past, but did not set it up these past two winter storms because the organization did not want to put volunteers at risk by sending them to the center last year, and the lower numbers this season did not warrant the warming center’s space.
Phifer said six board members and five primary volunteers help carry out the goals of Mission Machine.
“You know, it’s a seven day a week thing for us with these folks, and we just really all have the same heart for this and just really thankful to be working with them,” Phifer said.
Searcy’s engineering department worked to mitigate the effects of the snow and ice by spreading a mixture of salt and sand on the roads when the snow began to fall, city engineer Mark Lane said.
“As you know, we don’t always, every year, even get any snow or ice, so we don’t have a lot of stuff,” Lane said.
Lane said his team had some difficulty getting the job done because they had some problems with the two trucks they used to roll out the mixture. One truck experienced transmission problems while the other broke down because of an airbag. Lane said the city also has a lack of employees in the street department.
“We have to work with what we have, and the guys, like I said, they’re out there,” Lane said. “They worked the first day almost 24 hours straight. They do the best they can do with what we have to work with.”
Lane said his team is looking into ways to improve their equipment or add to it.