INDIANAPOLIS - Gov. Mike Pence signed an executive order declaring a state of disaster emergency for 29 of Indiana's 92 counties following the powerful snowstorm that dumped more than a foot of snow in some areas Sunday and Monday and delivered the coldest temperatures in two decades.
The counties included in the declaration were: Clinton, Delaware, Elkhart, Fulton, Grant, Howard, Jasper, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Lake, LaPorte, Madison, Marshall, Montgomery, Newton, Noble, Porter, Pulaski, Rush, St. Joseph, Starke, Steuben, Sullivan, Tipton, Vermillion, Vigo, Wabash, White and Whitley.
Emergency declarations are necessary to qualify for federal assistance.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and other city officials decided to soften travel restrictions in the wake of a winter storm and in the midst of the extreme cold, but Ballard stressed the danger is not over.
In a news conference Monday morning, Ballard said the Marion County travel advisory would be changed to "orange" status beginning at noon on Monday.
Even though the road status has improved, Ballard said companies should rethink the threat of firing workers who stay home due to the weather, and he said he still wants people to stay off the roads if possible, due to the dangerously low temperatures.
"The wind chill is 40 below. You can die in 10 minutes if you're not properly clothed," he said.
Marion County was one of multiple counties in central and northern Indiana that imposed travel warnings calling for motorists to stay off the roads.
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security keeps track of those emergency declarations here -- http://www.in.gov/dhs/traveladvisory/ .
Pence warned residents that traveling posed "real peril" because of poor road conditions and dangerous wind chills that could linger for 36 hours.
"If you can stay in today, stay in all day today," he said at a Statehouse news conference. "People need to understand that this is a very serious and very dangerous storm and despite the sunshine it continues to be just that."
Many of Indiana's schools, businesses and municipal offices were shuttered Monday, and some planned to remain closed Tuesday, after the storm dumped up to 15 inches of snow and 35 mph wind gusts drifted some roads shut. Nearly 40,000 homes and businesses remained without power Monday afternoon after tree limbs burdened with snow fell onto power lines.
Indiana's major electricity providers reported more than 37,000 power outages around the state after Sunday's snowstorm. Indianapolis had the most outages, and power remained out for about 30,000 homes and businesses as of Monday afternoon.
Ballard said that about 400 people were in shelters set up by the city to give people refuge from the biting cold.
Road conditions in Indianapolis were generally fair, considering the circumstances. Road crews have been able to plow many streets, and the interstates have also been plowed, but snow remains on the roads.
Ballard said it was too cold for salt to be effective on the roads Monday morning, but he said crews started using salt again as the sun came out later in the morning.
Ballard said he's now most concerned about the bitter cold air, the coldest in 20 years, now affecting the city.
"It's the cold that really scares us. We can always clear away the snow," Ballard said. "Just a few minutes outside, people will be affecting by frostbite, they'll get numb and they may not even know that they're getting frostbite."
Ballard issued the city's first red level travel warning since a blizzard paralyzed the city in January 1978. He lifted that ban at noon Monday, but said he wanted schools and businesses in the city to remain closed through Tuesday until the worst of the severe cold had passed.