Roane gas station an island in the storm
AMMA, W.Va. -- A sign behind the counter tells the story at O'Dell's Exxon in Amma: "Today's Special: Hot Drinks & Melted Candy Bars."
But a hand-lettered sign in the front window of the local landmark tells the rest of the story:
"Shelter at Big Otter Elem. Cots, Food & A/C. FREE."
O'Dell's Exxon, just off of the Amma exit of Interstate 79, has been without electricity or a way to pump gasoline since hurricane-force winds tore through West Virginia on Friday. O'Dell's has been open anyway, an impromptu community center, meeting place and communications center, where Roane County residents come to gather news and swap stories.
"This is the place to come," said Crystal Bryan, who lives on Canoe Run Road, not far away. "They'll figure out how to get something done.
"This is the only place you're going to get any information."
Since the violent thunderstorm knocked out electricity to much of the state, Bryan has come to O'Dell's several times seeking information and necessities. On Monday, she bought a gallon jug of warm water and the first cup of hot coffee she'd had since the storm hit.
All day long, a steady stream of cars pulls in and out of O'Dell's. Some are travelers looking for gas and some are local workers looking for a hot meal, but many just want to see a friendly face and find out what's going on.
"Do you have a phone book for Clendenin?" one visitor asked. O'Dell's had one.
John O'Dell built the gas station in the mid-1970s, as Interstate 79 was going in. Since then, it has become a local meeting place and source of information. "Everybody in this whole community comes in this place to gossip," said O'Dell's wife, Clarise.
Although without power, O'Dell's has faithfully opened every day, selling what they could and keeping sales records with pencil and paper. The station ran out of ice Saturday, but people kept coming. Even warm soda looks good if you're thirsty enough.
Many residents rely on O'Dell's for a hot breakfast or a sandwich at lunch. The O'Dells have kept the kitchen open, running a freezer off a generator in an attempt to keep as much food as possible on hand.
"We're trying to save our meat and stuff," Clarise O'Dell said.
Monday morning, the store ran out of buns, and Clarise O'Dell went on a search for bread. Many of the 20 or so employees who work for the O'Dells rely on the kitchen for food.
"We've been all the way to Charleston to get stuff for the guys," she said. While they were there, she picked up a couple of coolers of ice from relatives in Dunbar.
Many Roane residents still don't know when electricity will be restored in the rural county. Bryan said she and neighbors would flag down a Mon Power truck to get news if they could find one.
"I wouldn't mind that much if we'd just see one truck," she said.
Although power company trucks are moving around in Roane County, it could be the weekend or later before electricity is restored.
In the meantime, Clarise O'Dell thinks it's important to keep the station open.
Folks are counting on it.
Reach Rusty Marks at email@example.com or 304-348-1215.