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Charleston officials caught off guard by snowstorm

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Like many residents, local officials were expecting just a dusting of snow from Hurricane Sandy on Monday night, and were surprised to wake up to several inches of snow in the Charleston area.

"My last conversation with them [Monday], they were saying a dusting on the hills. Here we are, there's [several] inches on the hill," said Gary Taylor, public works director for the city of Charleston.

Most of the problems in the city were on the hilltops, where the snow piled the deepest, Taylor said.

"One of the biggest issues is Mount Alpha [Road, south of Kanawha City]," Taylor said. "They've had power lines down since 4 or 5 in the morning. Hampton Road is shut down."

Liz Somerville, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Charleston, said that the unexpectedly heavy snowfalls in the area came because Hurricane Sandy's path was slightly farther north than expected.

"If it would have tracked slightly south, we wouldn't have seen anything," she said. "Since it tracked a little bit north of [where we expected] we wound up with a decent snowstorm."

Snow-filled pathways blocked power company crews from assessing transmission line damage that knocked out service to nearly 47,000 Kanawha County residents Tuesday night, said County Commission President Kent Carper. Those without power should seek shelter for several days, he said.

Faced with the unexpected snowfall, local officials scrambled to get the roads clear.

"We're doing the best we can, and it's getting better," Mayor Danny Jones said Tuesday morning. "The main roads are pretty clear. I'm driving on MacCorkle Avenue. That's a state road. But the side roads, it's pretty tough. Cars are getting stuck."

Taylor urged people to be patient.

"Our problem is we're trying to treat the roads, and there are lots of trees and power lines down. People are calling, trying to get service."

After the summer derecho and other windstorms, the city tried to improve communications with the power company, Taylor said.

"I have a direct line with a supervisor at the power company. We're on a first-name basis. I was getting ready to call him." The problem, he said, is the company has only a finite number of crews.

Carper said power crews wouldn't make a damage assessment until mid-week. Only then could they bring in the necessary equipment to make repairs. 

"My advice to people is we're working on it. Settle down and be patient. If it's not an emergency, stay home," Taylor said. "Going out to the grocery store is not an emergency. You should have done did it already."

Staff writers Travis Crum and Zac Taylor contributed to this report.

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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