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Storm slams West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A powerful thunderstorm accompanied by high wind and heavy rain swept eastward across West Virginia late Friday, uprooting trees, downing power lines, blocking roads, disabling traffic lights and bringing outdoor activities to a halt.

Appalachian Power Co. reported that the storm left more than 332,000 homes and businesses, or nearly 70 percent of its West Virginia customers, without power. In Kanawha County, 72,000 homes and businesses out of a total of 104,000 customers, were left without electricity.

Outage rates topped 90 percent in at least two West Virginia counties. In Nicholas, nearly 96 percent of that county's 2,685 customers lacked power, while in Roane County, only 10 percent of its 2,327 customers retained service.

Appalachian Power officials said they would work with local emergency-services officials to identify shelter locations to allow those still without power to escape temperatures expected to approach or surpass the 100-degree mark again Saturday.

Winds gusts of up to 78 mph were recorded at Charleston's Yeager Airport late Friday, causing a single-engine Cessna 152 to flip over on the tarmac adjacent to the Executive Air Terminal. At a nearby general aviation hangar, several large hangar doors were blown from their hinges and across the parking apron, coming to rest more than 100 feet away.

Late-afternoon and early-evening commercial flights to Yeager were diverted to Lexington, Ky., and Tri Cities, Tenn., while one departing flight to Charlotte was canceled.

Dozens of uprooted trees and several downed power lines blocked Coonskin Drive, trapping hundreds of people attending a West Virginia Chaos soccer game at the park's Schoenbaum Stadium or trying to escape Friday's 102-degree heat in the shady riverside park. The soccer game was canceled only minutes after its 7 p.m. start time because of the arrival of the storm.

West Virginia National Guard security personnel guided a long convoy of cars trapped in the park onto the runway apron adjacent to the 130th Airlift Wing, and then onto Yeager Airport's general aviation area. From there, the convoy passed through a security gate and followed the airport's access road to W.Va. 114 and Greenbrier Street.

"The storm was mainly a wind event," said meteorologist Simone Lewis of the National Weather Service's Charleston forecast office. "There were widespread reports across the state of large tress, some of them two to three feet in diameter, being uprooted or snapped in half by the high winds."

By 9:30 p.m., Kanawha County's Metro 911 station had received nearly 1,300 storm-related calls, most involving downed trees and power lines.

The Kanawha County Emergency Operations Center was activated at 8 p.m. in response to the storm. Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper said emergency responders were traveling through the county to assess damage.

By 10 p.m., the storm had swept eastward through most of the state, and temperatures in Charleston had dropped from 102 to 69 degrees. All parts of the state, including the Eastern Panhandle were in the path of the storm, Lewis said.

Temperatures approaching triple figures are in the forecast for Saturday afternoon in the Kanawha Valley.

"It's possible we could see more severe weather again later in the day Saturday," Lewis said.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.

Staff writer Mackenzie Mays contributed to this report.


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