Schools and government offices closed early Wednesday and some remained closed Friday after icy rain and freezing temperatures left roads too slick for travel.
Though most forecasts had predicted icy weather to hit the area at close to 6 p.m. Wednesday, roads in Crawford County began to freeze and ice over at about 10 a.m., leaving many struggling to make it home from work or school safely.
Offices located inside the Crawford County Courthouse closed at 3 p.m. Wednesday, though county road crews continued to work to clear roads until midnight, said Chris Keith, Crawford County road superintendent.
Dropping temperatures took both road crews and residents by surprise, Keith said.
“When it hit, it hit fast - within 10 minutes it was ice,” Keith said.
Not only were county road crews out putting cinder and salt on dangerous roads, they were helping emergency vehicles get to accidents, Keith said.
Slippery roads caused a number of traffic accidents and many cars simply slid off the roads Wednesday and Thursday, and county road crews had to help a Van Buren school bus that had slid off the road Friday morning, Keith said.
A portion of Arkansas Highway 59 in Cedarville was down to one lane traffic temporarily Wednesday morning as police and a good Samaritan worked to pull several vehicles out of the ditch, said Cedarville Police Chief Blaine Irvin.
Traffic backed up as several cars traveling south on 59 were unable to make it up a slight incline and several slid off the road.
Irvin received the first call that a vehicle had slid off the road at about 10:30 a.m., and by the time he reached the area, two more vehicles were in the ditch, he said. Another two cars had side-swiped each other, he said.
While Cedarville police directed the one-lane traffic and waited in hopes that a sanding truck from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department would arrive to alleviate the problem, an unnamed resident in a large black truck came by.
“We didn’t call him, he was just driving through and offered to help,” Irvin said.
The man used his truck to pull vehicles at that site and several others out of ditches, Irvin said. It took about two hours to get the road clear and re-open both lanes, he said.
Several schools closed early Wednesday, and Alma, Mulberry and Mountainburg school districts remained closed Friday.
Alma school officials met at about 10 a.m. Wednesday and decided to keep school open with expectations that the afternoon would warm up, said Superintendent David Woolly.
“As it turned out, it was the right decision for the wrong reason,” Woolly said. “If we had closed school then, we would have had buses out at the 11 o’clock period when roads were at the slickest.”
After it was determined which buses could run their routes safely, school officials gave parents the choice to risk picking their kids up or allowing them to stay the night, Woolly said.
No kids had to stay overnight, but Crawford County Sheriff’s deputies - with the help of the county road department - did have to take several kids to the Arkansas Sheriff’s Youth Ranch after the two ranch vans ended up in the ditch on their way to the school, Woolly said.
In situations such as what happened Wednesday, Keith said that in clearing the roads “there’s no system; we just go where we’re needed.”
Several tons of cinder and salt had been used on county roads, and northern parts of the county still had many roads that were just as slick Friday as they were Wednesday, Keith said.
County crews will continue to work until all road are clear, and Keith said expects to use “several tons more” of cinder and salt.