Since a blast of wintry weather slamming much of Arkansas on Christmas night, energy crews have been busy trying to restore power to thousands of customers statewide.
While few residents in Clark County have been without power, neighboring Hot Spring County was hit harder. With upwards to 9 inches of snowfall in Malvern on Tuesday, power has been out for thousands there since then, leaving Arkadelphia's sister city in the dark. Farther north and west, respectively, Benton and Hot Springs residents had been out of power much of the week, forcing Hot Spring County residents to shop for goods in Caddo Valley and Arkadelphia.
Friday at press time, Entergy was reporting only seven "affected customers" in Clark County, about 1/2 mile west of Arkadelphia, with power expected to be restored by 10 a.m.; South Central Electrical Cooperative reported no local outages. Entergy's website said crews are "working to restore power as quickly as possible."
In Malvern and Hot Springs, however, the number of outages was quite different: hundreds remained without electricity on Friday morning. Areas with the most extensive damage were expected to have power restored within seven days as of Thursday.
This has come as a welcome surprise for convenience stations and grocery stores in Clark County: to pump fuel at local gas stations this week required patience, as motorists had to find a place in line at the gas pumps.
Randy Dixon, owner of Dixon Family Store (formerly West Pine Exxon) and Tiger Mart, said his store closest to Interstate 30 "has been really busy since the snow storm. We're getting a lot of calls from Malvern and Hot Spring County areas asking if we have gas and electricity."
Dixon said his West Pine Street location nearly ran out of gasoline, "but we got a tanker in before we ran out. We got two loads yesterday."
Meanwhile, Valley Exxon owner Jerry Walker said his Caddo Valley gas station did run dry early Thursday morning, but received a delivery at 10 a.m., about three hours after running out of fuel. "We've been fortunate enough to get deliveries during this part of the week when some of the other stations haven't," Walker said. "In all, we've done pretty good at getting fuel."
Neither Dixon nor Walker said the consumer demand for fuel will affect local gas prices, but agreed this week has been beneficial to their business.
But for Hot Spring County residents, this week has been nothing short of a nightmare.
On Wednesday, the morning after the outage, there were no stores — including Walmart — or restaurants open. And on Thursday, few convenience stations had opened its doors, along with Walmart, but emergency crews were on hand to direct traffic into and out of those parking lots.
Page 2 of 2 - Noting the impact of the countywide outage, Hot Spring County Judge Bill Scrimshire said most residents there have been "burning candles and lamps, and heating with butane heaters. … they're just staying wrapped up" to keep warm. With only one gas station open in Malvern for most of the week, Scrimshire said many are beginning to worry about running out of fuel. "Generators are selling everywhere," he said.
While Malvernites have reacted "pretty good, rather calm" to the outage, Scrimshire said their being shut in has put them on edge. "People are so used to having the convenience of electricity and Walmart," he said. The opening of Walmart on Thursday, he added, "takes off a lot of pressure. … It's beginning to ease their disposition some."
Kevin Brownlee, CEO of South Central Arkansas Electric Cooperative, said Friday he has a local crew assisting in Hot Spring County, where conditions remained hazardous.
Since Christmas, some 50 South Central crews, as well as countless Entergy crews, have been away from their family, restoring power to both urban and rural areas. "They're great," Brownlee said of his employees. "It's part of the life, the culture and job, and they're fine with it. It's their career choice."