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Generators, ice in high demand, short supply

Lawrence Pierce
Gasoline tanker trucks wait in a line Monday along Ferry Street, and back onto Thayer Street, outside the Marathon fuel terminal on the south side of the Kanawha River in Charleston.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A major supplier of ice to area stores had electricity restored Monday afternoon, another step in a return to normalcy after Friday's devastating windstorm.

Home City Ice in Milton and Parkersburg, which makes a considerable amount of the area's ice supply, was without power since Friday's storm. Power returned to the Milton location around 3:30 p.m. Monday, and ice production was expected to start about an hour later, said Josh Spence, operations manager.

The company, which usually makes 120 tons of ice per day, was buying ice from other states to try to meet the large demand since the storm knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of residences and businesses.

"We're buying it as far south as Louisiana," Spence said early Monday, before the power came back. "We're getting semi [truck] loads at a time. We're out now -- as soon as we get it, it goes into the market and lasts two to three hours."

The company delivers ice to terminals in Gassaway and Princeton, as well as in Gallipolis and Portsmouth, in Ohio, and Lynchburg, Va. Drivers take the ice from the terminals and the Milton and Parkersburg locations to vendors throughout West Virginia.

"We lose money when we have to buy ice, so we're doing this just to help people," Spence said. "We're desperately trying to get it out to the community."

After many realized power wasn't coming back on anytime soon, people scrambled to find bags of ice, but most stores were out.

The Milton operation's freezer, which usually is kept at 21 degrees, was a warm 51 degrees at about 9:30 a.m. Monday, Spence said. Appalachian Power was at the company trying to repair a downed line.

"We do have an AEP crew working on the power right now. Fingers crossed that we can get it back on," Spence said. "We can make 120 skids in 24 hours -- right now, we're selling 120 skids in about 3 hours."

Each skid of ice equals about 2,500 pounds, according to Spence.

Even when the power is turned back on, though, the company won't be able to meet demand in the area, according to Spence.

"I've got hundreds and hundreds of calls from companies needing ice," he said. "I've got people on hand for the second the power comes back."

At the pumps

About 200 gas stations in West Virginia had no gasoline Monday afternoon -- but that qualified as good news, according to the president of the West Virginia Oil Marketers and Grocers Association.

"It's improving greatly," said Jan Vineyard. "From the 8 a.m. report to noon report, about 25 more stations got fuel."

After Friday's storm, residents rushed to convenience stores to fill up their vehicles and get gasoline to run generators.

While some stores reported that they ran out of gasoline, Vineyard said most stores couldn't sell gas because they had no electricity.

"Many would have fuel, but weren't able to get it out of the ground," she said.

Out of about 1,450 fueling stations in West Virginia, between 200 and 250 didn't have gasoline at 3 p.m. Monday, according to Vineyard.

"West Virginia is a little handicapped when it comes to the supply of gasoline," she said. "We don't have pipelines in the state, so everything has to be brought in by barge or truck."

Electricity generators

On Monday, local and chain hardware stores continued to struggle with the demand for electricity generators, which have been flying out of stock since the gale-force winds and rain ebbed Friday.

"No good. Zero," Springhill Hardware co-owner Kelly Francis said of his generator stock. "I don't have any, and I can't get any supplied."

Francis said the store usually keeps a few generators in stock, but after this weekend's storms, customers snatched them up fast.

"You can't have enough when there's an emergency," Francis said, "and you have way too many the rest of the year."

Richard Zegeer, owner of Zegeer Hardware in Charleston, said about 100 people called his store Saturday asking if he had generators. Zegeer only sells generators on special order, so he had to turn away most of his customers.

A worker at Best Hardware in Marmet said 50 people lined up outside the store Saturday morning. The store sold its 25 generators in about five minutes, he said.

Even big hardware chains like Lowe's and Home Depot can't ship enough generators to Charleston area stores.

"They're selling as fast as we get them," said Jeff Lassater, manager of Lowe's in Kanawha City. "I don't know when I'm going to get more in -- the truck drivers are just as backed up as we are."

A Southridge Home Depot manager said the store reached out to get emergency trucks to ship generators and other stock. About 200 people are on a waitlist, but the company hopes more generators will be available later in the week.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.

Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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