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.