Winter storm causes travel hazards, power outages, price gouging concerns

Feb 26, 2015

Emergency Management Officer Paige Colburn, Huntsville - Madison County EMA

Residents in much of northern and central Alabama are digging out this morning after a winter storm dumped a substantial amount of snow on the region.

Roads are impassable in more than ten Alabama counties. The heaviest snow fell north of Birmingham – forecasters say some areas received upwards of ten inches of snow accumulation.

Paige Colburn is the emergency management officer for the Huntsville – Madison County EMA. She says they’re hoping to avoid a repeat of last Friday, when stuck and abandoned cars caused major problems for emergency crews.

“A lot of people went driving just to see how bad it actually was. And then after those people were rescued or moved, their vehicles were abandoned. Your fire trucks and your ambulances could not get to emergency calls because they were having to navigate around all these abandoned cars in the middle of the streets.”

Alabamians in the affected area are advised to stay off the roadways if at all possible. If you do have to drive, make sure to be prepared for delays.

Alabama Power officials say about 12,000 customers statewide were without power before dawn today after nearly a foot of snow fell in some parts of the state.

Company officials said that as of 6 AM, about 8,000 of them were in the Tuscaloosa area and about 3,500 were in the Birmingham area.

The utility says there were another 500 customers without power east of Birmingham.

The National Weather Service says some areas in the state's northeastern and northwestern corners could break snowfall records dating to the 1890s.

While most of Alabama digs out of all that snow and ice, Attorney General Luther Strange warns Alabamians to watch your wallet as well. Due to the state of emergency, Alabama's price gouging law is in effect.

Strange says consumers should be aware of possible price gouging when buying food, generators and other supplies to prepare for severe weather.

The law goes into effect whenever the governor declares a state of emergency. It prohibits the "unconscionable pricing" of items; however, It does not specifically outline what constitutes an "unconscionable" price.

An item priced at 25 percent or more above the average cost in the same area within the last 30 days qualifies, unless that increase can be attributed to a reasonable cost.

There is a $1000 per violation penalty for price gouging. Strange says anyone who violates the law could be prohibited from doing business in Alabama.

Republican state lawmakers have announced their agenda for the upcoming legislative session. House Speaker Mike Hubbard and GOP legislators say charter schools and economic incentive bills are among their top priorities.

Since same-sex couples are now free to marry in Alabama, Republicans are also proposing a "religious freedom" bill designed to protect judges and others who refuse to participate in marriage ceremonies that violate their religious beliefs.

The GOP caucus is also backing legislation to bring back the electric chair if Alabama is unable to obtain lethal injection drugs for executions.

House Minority Leader Craig Ford has criticized state Republicans for not proposing a solution to Alabama's budget issues. Hubbard said the party is waiting to hear a tax and incentive package from Governor Robert Bentley.

The legislative session begins next Tuesday.