Half-million customers still without power
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As hundreds of thousands of West Virginians huddled by candlelight Sunday for another night without TV, air conditioning and Internet access, the number one question was, "When will we get our power back?"
The answer for many is not anytime soon.
"I'm kind of wondering that too," said Phil Moye, a spokesman for Appalachian Power in Charleston.
Moye was among more than a half-million customers of AEP and FirstEnergy subsidiaries Mon Power and Potomac Edison in the Mountain State still without power Sunday, two days after a freak line of thunderstorms called a derecho raced across the state, packing hurricane-force winds.
"My wife says, 'Can't you have someone look at it?'" Moye said. "Yeah, I could, but in terms of prioritization, it's probably going to be Monday or Tuesday before anyone gets here."
Shortly after noon Sunday, AEP said 291,634 customers were without power in West Virginia, down from 328,445 on Saturday morning. Mon Power listed about 179,000 customers without power, and Potomac Edison 32,000. The three utilities serve nearly all of the state.
The storm, which swept from the Great Lakes to the Chesapeake Bay, devastated parts of Ohio, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia and the District of Columbia. But West Virginia took the biggest hit, according to FirstEnergy.
"It affected it fairly catastrophically," company spokesman Todd Meyers said Sunday.
"Parkersburg took the brunt of the storm, with 90-plus mile-per-hour winds."
Forecasters on Friday predicted a number of storm cells, but no one expected a continuous line stretching from the Northern Panhandle to south of Huntington, Meyers said. "It blew across the entire state.
"In Ellenboro, a 500-kilovolt transmission line -- it crunched three towers. That's part of the interstate transmission grid, and it's out." Repair crews were at the scene Sunday, he said.
"They'll build temporary structures and get that line back up by midweek, hopefully. Then in the fall, when you have less load, that's when you'll go back in and do permanent repairs.
"Our problem, why so many customers are out, this one damaged over 50 large transmission lines and 70 substations."
At its peak, the storm affected 280,000 customers, 56 percent of Mon Power's base in West Virginia.
Among the worst hit counties were Lewis and Summers (99 percent out), Jackson (97 percent) and Barbour (93 percent).
The company has a detailed interactive map and table at outages.firstenergycorp.com/mdwv.html.
Mon Power sent out six helicopters during the weekend to check transmission lines, Meyers said. "It's kind of hard to track damage down because it's rugged mountainous terrain, often with no roads.
"Until the transmission lines are taken care of ... that's our biggest priority. You can't look at the local level until the transmission system is fixed. Hopefully you can bring a lot of customers back on line when you repair transmission lines.
"The next priority is hospitals, public safety facilities, water treatment plants. And then you work on the [local] distribution system, and you try to bring large numbers of customers on first."
It doesn't make sense to do spot restoration of power, Meyers said, even to seemingly important facilities like gas stations, where outages at some stations helped contribute to long lines at others.
"That's a problem for us as well. There are areas, like Elkins, where you can't get fuel." Mon Power has to make special plans to make sure its trucks can find fuel, he said.
AEP reported similar problems, although its interstate transmission lines held up better, Moye said. As of Sunday, the company estimated power would not be fully restored until Saturday. Parts of populous Kanawha and Putnam counties could go without power until Friday night.
"That doesn't mean everyone will be out until Friday," Moye said. Customers will be brought back throughout the week.
For information, see https://www.appalachianpower.com/outages, and outages.firstenergycorp.com/mdwv.html
Mon Power said it hoped to restore power in lightly hit Weirton by Sunday night and in Morgantown by Monday night. Other areas will wait until later in the week.
After any big storm, AEP does a systemwide assessment, using helicopters to scan transmission lines and trucks to follow local distribution lines from substations, Moye said.
"Without that, you're just sending out people. At the same time, you're taking care of the key outages where you can. If you can restore 2,000 customers at once, you do it. We also remove safety hazards. If someone calls and says there's a line across a road, we do that first."
After that, it's all based on priority. "We had hospitals with 300 patients that were out. That's pretty critical. Hospitals, water and sewer systems, and outages that affect a large number of customers."
That may be little comfort to families watching the food in their refrigerators go bad.
Packer trucks in Charleston
Charleston Mayor Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said the city will set out three packer trucks where residents can dispose of food and other garbage in Charleston from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today .
The packer trucks will be housed at the Park and Ride lot on Cantley Drive, at the Kanawha City Recreation Center at 3511 Venable Ave. and at the North Charleston Recreation Center at 2009 Seventh Ave.
Jones also said people have been calling and asking about when downed trees will be removed from city roadways. He said a lot of the trees are wrapped in electrical wires and the city must defer to Appalachian Power when lines are down.
He knows that some residents have personally removed trees from roadways with saws and other power equipment. While Jones said he's appreciative of their efforts, he worries they could be putting themselves in danger.
"They're assuming a risk that I wouldn't put a lot of my workers through," he said.
Also Sunday afternoon, West Virginia American Water spokeswoman Laura Jordan expected water customers in Clendenin, Sissonville and in the Knollwood Road and Dutch Road areas just north of Charleston should have their water service restored by Sunday evening.
Customers in higher elevations are more likely to notice a loss of water pressure first, as water tank levels decrease, she said.
Over the weekend, the water company had been trying to secure extra generators -- across the state -- which are needed to supply power to West Virginia American's water pumps, Jordan said.
Water company officials are hoping to get generators from sister company Pennsylvania American Water and the West Virginia Air National Guard, Jordan said.
Although incorrect rumors have spread, Jordan said, West Virginia American Water officials have not planned to turn off any community's water supply.
"None of it's true," she said of the rumors.
In areas where the water has been off or customers have experienced weak water pressure, it's just been because of "a lack of power," Jordan said.
The storm outages also brought out the worst in some, as thieves stole gas- and diesel-fueled generators from several Frontier Communications centers, hindering the Internet and telephone company's ability to operate.
Frontier's senior vice president Dana Waldo says Frontier uses the generators to power its networks when commercial power goes down.
"This level of lawlessness is remarkable during a statewide emergency,'' Waldo said Sunday in a statement. "These thefts create significant problems for us as we strive to provide service to customers who rely on their landline telephones.''
This storm, however, ranks as the worst summer storm in years, and one of the most devastating ever.
"We've restored 90,000 customers in two days," Moye said. "That's a big number for a normal storm. In this one, we've restored 90,000 and we still have four or five times that to go.
"Even in terms of numbers, our Dec. '09 storm had affected 364,000 customers in Virginia and West Virginia, with the highest peak of 221,000," he said. "With this one we had 566,000 customers out. That's the worst one I can remember in 22 years here."Reach Jim Balow at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5102.