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Dark, dripping ice rink 'like a bat cave'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A weekend without power left South Charleston's skating rink on thin ice.

The city's Memorial Ice Arena lost power during Friday's storm. Before the rink regained electricity around 5 p.m. Sunday, the ice melted from its usual two inches thick to around a half-inch.

"It was just like being in a bat cave," said Butch Buckley, the arena's manager, looking out over the ice. "It was pitch black and all you could hear was the water running off the rafters."

On Monday, cracks were visible in the ice and pipes could be seen under it -- a sign of how thin it was, Buckley said.

All morning on Monday, the phone rang at the ice rink. People wanted to know if it was open, he said.

"Of course the public wants to come in here," Buckley said. "It's cold ... It's dehumidified."

No luck, though. The arena remained closed Monday.

Fortunately, no camps were scheduled this week because of the Fourth of July holiday. The arena should be ready when camps start again early next week, Buckley said.

Still, the arena lost probably thousands of dollars in revenue because it wasn't open over the weekend during the 100-degree heat, Buckley said.

South Charleston's community center and golf course have been closed in the wake of the storm as well, Mayor Frank Mullens said. But the mayor said he was not concerned with a loss of revenue from the closures.

"All you can do is get it back open as quickly as you can and go back at it," Mullens said.

The mayor said while the city has done a job good with recovery efforts, he plans to meet with city department heads Friday to discuss what could have been done better.

"I didn't have a whole lot on the agenda," he said. "Now I do."

Workers at the ice arena staff will work long hours over the next few days trying to build back the ice, Buckley said. He hopes to reopen Thursday.

"We're very lucky," he said. "Another day, it wouldn't have been this lucky and it would have been all over. We'd been down the whole month of July just trying to get it back."

The process involves using a water hose to spread a water mist over the ice. As each layer freezes, the process is repeated 10 to 15 times, he said.

Besides the ice arena, the power outage closed several Corridor G businesses over the weekend.

The Walmart at Southridge Centre was open intermittently over the weekend. The store closed when it lost power Friday evening, remained closed throughout Saturday and opened with generator power around 2 a.m. Sunday, store manager George Skinner said.

It closed again around 6 a.m. Monday when a generator belt broke, and stayed closed until the electricity came on around 11 a.m.

Skinner said the store had to throw away "quite a bit" of perishable food because of the power outage.

"Of course there's a financial impact, but it's one of those things where you try to follow procedures and keep [the impact] at a minimum," Skinner said.

The store has had ice to sell, which is something many customers were after, he said.

"That's what everyone is trying to get," he said. "We had some generators, but we sold all of those."

Skinner said he's placed an order for generators and hoped some would arrive Tuesday.

The timing of the storm and power outages was unfortunate, he said.

"It's a first of the month going into a holiday week," Skinner said. "This is when customers are here trying to get what they need."

Walmart spokeswoman Dianna Gee said 30 Walmart and Sam's Club stores in West Virginia were affected by the weekend's power outages. By around 11:30 a.m. Monday, only two were still closed without electricity, she said.

An Exxon station on Mountaineer Boulevard across from Walmart reopened Sunday afternoon when power was restored, cashier Kita Jones said. People waited in long lines to refuel their vehicles.

"It wasn't too crazy," Jones said. "It was calm. [We were] better off than other places."

The gas station was busy Monday morning too, she said.

"We can't keep ice," she said. The store sold 100 22-pound bags of ice in around a half-hour, she said.

"They were taking it as fast as he could load it," Jones said.

Target in the Shops at Trace Fork used backup generators and didn't close over the weekend, store managers said. The store was one of the few in the area to stay open, managers said.

"We just wanted to stay open to be a resource for the community," said an assistant manager who declined to give her name.

The store doesn't sell generators, but customers bought camping equipment and flashlights during the power outage, she said.

"We lost the majority of the cold [food] items," she said. "Anything that was not refrigerated was still available."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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