CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If not for quick action by state and power-company officials, the statewide electricity outage might have claimed as many as 300,000 lives Monday morning.
As it was, Mon Power crews got the juice flowing in the nick of time to save all but a few hundred trout in the state-owned Reeds Creek Fish Hatchery in Pendleton County.
"It was close -- way too close," said Curtis Taylor, wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources. "We were within maybe an hour of losing every trout in the hatchery when the power company got service restored."
All seven of West Virginia's fish hatcheries were left without power after the June 29 "derecho" windstorm that toppled trees and interrupted electrical service throughout most of the state. All the facilities were operating on generator power until about 9:30 p.m. Sunday, when the generator at Reeds Creek failed.
"Having power is especially critical at Reeds Creek because it's the only hatchery in our system where the water gets re-circulated," Taylor explained. "If the pumps don't operate, we can start losing trout within just a few hours."
The pumps are especially critical during hot weather because warm water holds less oxygen than cold water, and trout require oxygen-rich water. With the water unable to re-circulate at Reeds Creek, the water quickly warmed and lost much of its oxygen.
Hatchery supervisor Dave Alt and his crew of workers labored through the night to get the generator's diesel engine restarted.
"We got it started, but it only ran about 10 minutes," Alt said. "We thought the engine might not be getting enough air, so we knocked a window out of the little block building that houses the generator. That kept us running for 15 minutes. We took a door off the building and got it to run for about 45 minutes."
Alt spent a fitful night at the generator, restarting it when it stopped. At 7:30 Monday morning, it quit altogether.
"I gave my wife, Tammy, a phone directory and had her start calling people. She called our local [natural resources] commissioner, she called [DNR] director [Frank] Jezioro's office, and she called Curtis Taylor.
Taylor vividly remembers the call.
"She said Dave had been up all night trying to get the generator started. She was almost in tears because the trout were about to start dying."