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UPDATE: Pence considers emergency in 29 counties

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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence plans to sign an executive order declaring a state emergency in 29 counties – a number that’s could increase – because of snow and cold temperatures.

However, the governor said state government operations will resume at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The General Assembly plans to return at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Senate committees originally scheduled for earlier that day are postponed and will take place after the Senate adjourns Tuesday or in the coming days. Lawmakers who are not able to make it to Indianapolis will be excused from the session, said House Republican spokeswoman Tory Flynn.

The session is scheduled to last through mid-March. In that time, lawmakers are expected to consider business tax cuts, a state-funded preschool and state school curriculum standards.

Pence said the emergency declaration “lays a foundation for us to seek federal assistance and a federal emergency declaration.”

He said it’s not clear yet whether Indiana would qualify for federal help but he said snow totals are approaching record levels in some communities.

“It continues to be a dangerous winter storm, despite the sunshine,” Pence said. “We are talking about the kind of temperatures and travel conditions that represent real peril to Hoosiers who venture out in the next 24 to 36 hours.”

Northern and central Indiana have been hit hardest by the storms – which brought as much as 14 inches of snow – and Pence said he was moving highway and other personnel from southern Indiana to the Fort Wayne and LaPorte areas to help.

The counties  on the list: 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.

Meanwhile, 250 members of the Indiana National Guard are now on active duty and spread throughout the state to assist motorists and local law enforcement. State Adjutant General Martin Umbarger said the soldiers have used their Humvees to help local emergency officials power through snow-covered roads to get to people that need help. They’ve also taken individuals who need medical assistance to area hospitals.

State officials said at least one death – the victim of a car accident in Henry County – has been attributed to the storm.

Pence said the 29 counties included in the emergency declaration are those that had declared local emergencies. But the governor said he’s ordered Indiana Department of Homeland Security officials to evaluate conditions in additional communities to determine whether they should be added to the declaration, which he plans to sign later today.

“There is a broad range of concerns” in the counties, he said. They include power outages, drifting snow, impassable roads and other issues.

Interstate 65 remains closed from Lafayette north to Gary and a section of I-80/I-94 is also closed, as are a number of state and local roads.

Pence closed state government on Monday out of what he called an “abundance of concern” for state employees and as a way to keep tens of thousands of people off the roads while crews were working to clear snow.

Leaders in the legislative and judicial branches also closed their offices and canceled operations on Monday.

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