WARREN - The broken soles on Susan Buell's shoes flap open at her toes - hardly the ideal footwear for Tuesday's deep freeze- and reflect the rest of her life. Sitting in the lobby of the downtown Salvation Army, which had been converted into a warming center, she shared her story, beginning with an ice-covered highway in Indiana.
"Jan. 7, I wrecked the 18-wheeler. I've been a truck driver for well over 40 years. For the first time in my life I jack-knifed it," she said.
Buell, 55, was headed to pick up a trailerload in New Castle, Ind., an hour east of Indianapolis that only two days prior had its travel warning raised to red, making it illegal to be on the road except in emergencies. Bitter temperatures in the single digits were also being felt in northeast Ohio.
She said the city she was heading to had been closed, but her dispatcher didn't let her know. Losing control of the semi on the icy roads, Buell said the front end of the truck was torn open and the fuel tank was bent; she was lucky there wasn't an explosion.
"I'm supposed to be in a neck brace, but try to walk in this weather," she said, noting her spine was injured in the accident. "The doctor said if it starts hurting, don't do it - walking, bending over - with the cold on top of it, it seems like I'm walking fast, but it's not normal."
After the accident, she said the trucking company fired her without providing any means for her to make her way back home to Warren. They put her up in a motel for one night and with the last hundred dollars to her name, she paid her son's friend to come pick her up.
Tribune Chronicle photos / R. Michael Semple
Susan Buell of Warren, a truck driver, stops at the Warren Salvation Army on Tuesday to get warm and receive a few items to help her during the cold snap this week. The Warren facility is one of the area’s warming stations.
"No gas was on at the home when I came home," she said.
Buell has since been staying with her son, daughter-in-law and their five children. They keep as warm as they can by using electric space heaters, but it's not enough, she said, hence why she came to the warming center.
"I was doing well before. I had a king-sized bed and a nice phone, well now it's gone. I've lost everything," she said. "The depression is astronomical. If someone says something wrong to me or my family, I just go to the bedroom and I hibernate."
So what's next? "I guess God had a different direction for me," she said. "I'll hitch hike to Florida so I can get back on my feet."
Buell said she knows of a shelter in Florida that will help her to rebuild her life. In the meanwhile, she waited in the warming center with a few bags of apples, cereal and paper product donations from the Salvation Army.
Across the room, Karen Whatley, 62, and her mother Grace Owens, 86, were also taking a break from the cold.
"We're going to weather this storm. She's 86 and has business to do and I'm going to be right behind her," said Whatley.
Owens couldn't remember the last time it was this cold in the area and Whatley mentioned that her daughter in Alabama called to tell her it was snowing there, too.
Warming centers were also set up in the county by the Warren Family Mission and the American Red Cross. Karen Conklin, executive director of the American Red Cross Valley branch, said the centers haven't seen a large turnout, but that it isn't unusual.
"It's standard protocol for the Red Cross to set up warming centers. It's a precaution piece if someone doesn't have a place to go," she said.
Conklin said they've been setting up the centers "long before people could go to Walmart 24 hours a day." Most people, she figures, have other places to go to stay warm nowadays.
The facilities are set up for if someone's electricity goes out or if their pipes burst and they need a temporary spot, unlike the shelters that provide overnight stays.
Whatley and her mother, along with Garry Overholt, 60, who was also defrosting at the Salvation Army, said they were only staying for a short time and that they'd be able to warm up at home as well.
"It's OK," Overholt said, "I mean it could be warmer."