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Storm recovery in state making progress

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than 250,000 people are still without power in West Virginia after Friday's massive storm knocked out hundreds of power poles, distribution stations and circuit breakers across the state.

First Energy Co. -- which operates as Mon Power -- had 108,247 people without power while 147,408 of Appalachian Power's half-million customers remained without electric service, as of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

An additional 750 workers will join crews of more than 3,000 workers Thursday  who have traveled across the country to West Virginia and Virginia to help restore power, said Jeri Matheny, spokeswoman for Appalachian Power. Appalachian has secured help from Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi and Georgia.

Despite hardships across the state, locals have risen to the occasion to help those in need. A food drive held in front of the Governor's Mansion in Charleston on Tuesday collected more than $60,000 in donations and much-needed food. Thousands of West Virginians who are in need because of the storm can receive the donated food from the Mountaineer Food Bank and Huntington Food Bank networks located in more than 50 counties.

"This recovery process is a 24-hour operation," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in a news release. "While the road ahead remains a challenge, I'm grateful to everyone who has continued to work around the clock to help West Virginians."

Tomblin thanked "all West Virginians, and our friends near and far, who are going above and beyond the call of duty to help our state through a difficult and unprecedented time.

"Our utility companies and emergency management officials are doing everything possible to get us back on our feet again. All major roads are now open and we are on our way to getting the lights back on.

"The entire state has pulled together to weather this storm," Tomblin said. "Our National Guard and hundreds of community groups are going door to door to check on those without power."

The governor cautioned, however, "even with this remarkable effort, it will take time to recover from the violent storms. Please stay calm and be patient. We have a lot of work left to do, but we will get through this together."

Appalachian Power and state officials are characterizing the storm as "similar to or even greater than a hurricane, but without advance warning." The storm produced winds in excess of 75 mph and heavy rain across a large portion of Appalachian Power's service territory.

As of Wednesday morning, approximately 57 percent of Appalachian Power's customers across West Virginia and Virginia -- 244,192 out of 573,000 -- had their power restored, according to the company.

"As I've surveyed the damage, I've met with many folks who are without power and have damage to their homes.  . . . At every single stop, I've watched folks generously working to help others despite their own hardship," Tomblin said in the release.

Jimmy Gianato, state director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, is one of the people Tomblin thanked directly. Gianot's home was struck by lightening and burned to the ground Friday.

"Jimmy hasn't skipped a beat. He has been working around the clock to oversee the state's recovery efforts," Tomblin said. "And he isn't the only one. I've met thousands of others who are setting aside their personal struggles to help others."

Restoration estimates from Appalachian Power have not changed despite small storms Tuesday night. Greenbrier, McDowell, Mercer, Monroe, Putnam and Summers counties should expect to be up and running by Friday night. On Saturday, customers in Boone, Cabell, Jackson, Lincoln, Logan, Mason, Mingo and Wayne counties should have power.

On Sunday, Clay, Kanawha, Fayette, Nicholas, Raleigh, Roane and Wyoming counties should have power, more than a week after the massive storm ripped across the region.

First Energy customers might see relief slightly earlier, with Morgan County supposed to be fully restored sometime Thursday. Berkley, Grant, Hampshire and Mineral counties should have power by late Thursday along with the following towns:

Buckhannon, Big Otter, Clarksburg, Elkins, Elizabeth, Fairlea, Fairmont, Franklin, Gassaway, Glenville, Grafton, Harrisville, Hinton, Kingwood, Lewisburg, Marlinton, Parkersburg, Parsons, Sistersville, Spencer, Summersville, Webster Springs and Weston.

On July 6, the towns of Burnsville, Cowen, Craigsville, Ivydale, Mannington, Monongah, Richwood and White Sulphur Springs should be fully restored.

Every other community not specifically mentioned should be restored by late Sunday.

Outages are being restored by priority, according to Appalachian, and critical infrastructures, such as hospitals, water and sewer stations are given highest priority.

Then, priority is given to outages that will restore the largest number of customers after a repair has been made, according to Appalachian.

Friday night's storm was part of a massive straight-line windstorm that traveled close to 700 miles in 10 hours, devastating 10 states and leaving more than 4.3 million customers without electric service throughout the country.

More than 90 distribution substations for Appalachian Power were taken out by the storm and all but 21 have been placed back in service.

Only 90 of the 370 circuit breakers that were taken out of service for Appalachian Power by the storm remained out of service Wednesday, according to Appalachian Power.

More than 100 transmission lines were affected by Friday's storm and 80 percent of those lines have been either partially or completely restored to distribution stations.

"All transmission lines have been patrolled by helicopter to assess damage. Damage was minimal to our transmission structures / towers. Transmission lines typically run from plant-to-station and station-to-station," according to an Appalachian Power news release.

In addition, at least 500 poles across Appalachian Power's territory were broken and need to be replaced and "thousands of spans of wire were damaged," according to the company. On average, it takes a crew of three or four people approximately four hours to replace a single pole.

Power employees will be working on restoration "for at least the next six days," according to Appalachian Power -- an estimate that is based on current assessments and no further storm-related outages.

The Kanawha Valley water system, including Kanawha, Putnam and Boone counties, still did not have power Wednesday at 25 booster stations that pump water into storage tanks, according to West Virginia American Water.

Generators were being moved from site to site to maintain water service to area customers, according to the water company.

However, customers in the following areas are still experiencing water outages on Wednesday due to tank and booster sites that remain inaccessible due to the storm:

The upper areas of South Park Road in Kanawha City, Mount Alpha Road and the Foxchase area of Kanawha City and Thorofare Road in Clendenin.

"We are working diligently to access these sites and restore water service. Customers throughout the system, particularly those in the highest elevation, may experience low water pressure as we continue to work around the clock deploying emergency generators to keep the system fully pressurized without power in many areas," the water company said in news release.

Staff Writer Megan Workman contributed to this report.

Reach Kathryn Gregory at kathryng@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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