(Memphis) On Feb. 11, 1994, Memphis was hit by the most notorious ice storm in half a century.
Twenty years later, many people like Walter Washington still remember the first images they saw and heard that day.
“It was just that bad because I wasn’t prepared for it and I don’t think anybody was. All of a sudden power posts, the light street posts were falling on the ground and branches were falling out of the trees,” Washington said.
Memphians awoke to thousands of trees collapsed under the weight of an icy coating.
Damon Owens is a supervisor with the City of Memphis Public Works Department at Collins Yard. It’s where crews gather to dispense salt and brine over icy streets,
“The limbs go bang and drop and they were dropping all over Memphis. It sounded like a war zone, almost,” Owens said.
In 1994, the ice almost crippled public works crews from doing their jobs.
“You go down one street, run into a tree and turn around and before you get off the street another tree would block you in. Our crews were having to cut themselves out of some streets, it had gotten so bad back then,” Owens said.
The storm left half of Shelby County – 300,000 utility customers – without electricity.
Businesses, schools and government agencies had to be shutdown.
Some customers were without power for days, but others didn’t have service for more than two weeks, forcing people into shelters, including the Pyramid arena.
Bob Nations is the director of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness.
“That was just a horrible storm and it didn’t go away in weeks and it took months for the recovery to be fully matured,” Nations said.
But 20 years later, Nations says Memphis is now better prepared with training, technology, and partnerships with weather forecasters to possibly handle another storm of epic proportions.
“We’ve gone from darkness into the light with technology and the ability to forecast to be so much more timely and accurate,” Nations said.