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More than half of Fayette County still without power

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than half of Fayette County residents were still without power Thursday afternoon, six days after a fierce storm hammered West Virginia.

"We're half on, half off," Fayette County Commission President Matt Wender said.

Last Friday's storm knocked out electricity to 92 percent of Appalachian Power customers in Fayette County. Fifty-three percent of Fayette residents didn't have power Thursday afternoon.

"It's been a tough situation," said Wender, speaking from his Oak Hill home, which had lost power a second time this week after a thunderstorm swept through the area Thursday afternoon.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has twice visited Fayette County since Friday's storm.

A large number of West Virginia National Guard members arrived in Fayette County Wednesday, Wender said. The Guard set up four facilities to cook and distribute hot meals at the Glen Jean Armory and the Anstead, Page-Kincaid, Gauley Bridge and Armstrong Creek fire departments.

Guard members also are going door-to-door, checking on Fayette residents to make sure they're OK.

"They didn't have a big presence in the county until [Wednesday]," Wender said. "Now they're here in force. They're doing great work."

American Red Cross workers also are helping with Fayette County's recovery, Wender said.

"We're making sure nobody's without food," he said.

The power outage initially crippled water-pumping equipment at the county's public service district water plants. Most facilities had backup generators, but the equipment broke down at some sites, Wender said.

All Fayette water plants have resumed pumping water -- either with generators or restored electric service.

The county also has three "tractor-trailer truckloads" of drinking water that's being distributed to county residents, Wender said. Water stations have been set up at 14 sites at schools, churches and fire departments.

"Currently, the main priority is getting bottled drinking water to as many people as possible," Wender said.

The Fayette County school board has opened Valley High School as a cooling station. Other full-service shelters are at First Church of God in Fayetteville, Montgomery Catholic Church and Lewis Community Center in Oak Hill.

The county also has set up 14 sites where Fayette residents can throw away spoiled food. Dumpsters will be removed Sunday.

"We've had tremendous cooperation," Wender said. "There are a whole lot of people trying to do their best. Every effort has been taken to quickly bring help to all areas of the county."

Earlier this week, a Fayette County nonprofit leader raised questions about the state's and county's response to the storm.

In an email request for food, water and fuel, John David, director of the Southern Appalachian Labor School, wrote, "There is chaos, disorganization and fighting" in Fayette County. During a conference call, David also argued with Red Cross leaders over where to put an emergency kitchen.

On Thursday, Wender took issue with David's statement about the storm's aftermath and recovery efforts.

"I feel we've done a pretty good job responding and communicating," Wender said.

He said some motorists apparently became angered last weekend after being turned away from a gas station along U.S. 19 near Fayetteville.

Fayette County sheriff's deputies were dispatched to the filling station to maintain order, Wender said.

"People ran out of gas," he said. "There had been tremendous lines. Words may have been exchanged, but I'm not aware of any fights."

Volunteers are still needed to help with storm relief in Fayette County, Wender said. Anyone interested in volunteering should call the local Red Cross at 304-469-4636.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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