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Emergency shelters are open throughout W.Va. (with video)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rhonda Payne wasn't sure what she would do when she woke to discover there was no electricity where she was staying Tuesday.

Her 4-year-old grandson, Derius, suffers from asthma and requires daily breathing treatments.

"I was going to go knocking on doors," Payne said. "If not, we'd end up being in the emergency room. This has happened before."

Payne and Derius were just two of the people who came to stay at an emergency shelter at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Sissonville Tuesday.

Payne brought the boy, his mother, her niece and nephew to stay until power is restored.

"If it wasn't for this shelter, I don't know what we would have done," Payne said. "I would have gone door to door asking."

While a few people had come to the Aldersgate shelter for breathing treatments and a warm meal, officials were expecting more for dinner and to stay the night.

Volunteers were expecting 50 cots from the Red Cross, said Brad Bennett, one of the pastors at the church. Bennett said he expected power to be out for at least 24 hours because a transmission line was down.

"This is just a lull," Pat Taylor, a church member and coordinator of the community center, said while looking at the few people who had gathered there Tuesday afternoon. "We had people come in and eat lunch and [there will] be more people during the evening meal from 5 to 7."

Power was out at the church and the shelter was relying on a 100-watt generator. Taylor said the shelter would stay open as needed.

"We'll stay here until we're no longer needed," he said. "We were open nine days last summer [following the June 29 derecho] and we served more than 2,700 meals during that time."

Rosalie Fisher also visited the Sissonville shelter. The 83-year-old said she wasn't concerned that her power was off early Tuesday because she knew she'd have a place to go.

"I'll just stay here," Fisher said. "This is my church.

"I've got a son [vacationing] in Hilton Head, S.C.," Fisher said. "They're the wise ones. They booked another week."

Across Kanawha County, seven emergency shelters opened overnight, including the one at Aldersgate, officials said. Others include the Salvation Army in Charleston, the Kanawha City Recreation Center, Riverside High School, the Hansford Senior Center in St. Albans, Cabin Creek Volunteer Fire Department and the Pratt Volunteer Fire Department.

Kanawha County Manager Jennifer Sayre recommended that people without power stay with family or friends who do have electricity.

Those who are going to an emergency shelter should take prescription and emergency medication, extra clothing, pillows, blankets, hygiene supplies, flashlights with extra batteries, small board games, books, specialty snacks and juices for those with dietary restrictions, basic snacks, baby food and formula, diapers, chairs, their driver's license or other photo ID, insurance papers and other comfort items, she said.

Around the state, 27 emergency shelters have opened in Berkeley, Greenbrier, Jefferson, Kanawha, Monongalia, Morgan, Nicholas, Preston, Raleigh, Randolph, Upshur and Wyoming counties, according to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office.

As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, Mon Power was reporting 118,685 West Virginia customers were without power. Appalachian Power reported as of noon that 149,015 of their West Virginia customers were without power.

In Preston County, the Red Cross has opened an emergency shelter in the Bruceton Brandonville Volunteer Fire Department station. Nearby Interstate 68 closed around 10 p.m. Monday because of snow and traffic accidents, Fire Chief Randy Spiker said.

The interstate reopened Tuesday afternoon.

Snow amounts have varied in that area.

"It's been a broad range," Spiker said. "In Bruceton [Mills], we probably have 4 inches, but go seven, eight miles and you'll find a foot and a half."

Power started going out Monday night, he said. The fire station had power and backup generators just in case, he said.

"It's pretty well out in the entire area here," Spiker said at about 2 p.m. Tuesday.

By about 2 p.m., the shelter had 20 to 24 visitors, Spiker said. Officials expected more Tuesday night.

Following the summer's derecho, power restoration took between two days and a week and a half in Preston County, depending on the location, Spiker said.

"I'm hoping it won't take as long to get [power] back on, but initial reports are that it could take up to two weeks to get it back on in the area," he said.

In Wyoming County, Mullens Opportunity Center was one of three emergency shelters. As of about noon, Appalachian Power reported more than 9,000 customers in Wyoming County were without power.

By about 4 p.m., though, no one had visited the MOC shelter yet, said Charlene Cook, the center's director of operations.

"We're here to offer the service if it's needed," Cook said. "I do know the Red Cross is supposedly en route. They're bringing blankets and cots and food."

Also Tuesday, Kanawha officials warned residents staying at home not to use generators or grills inside a house or enclosed space because it can lead to illness or death.

"Never use generators and charcoal or gas grills inside your home, in basements, in garages or other enclosed spaces due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning," Barb Taylor, head of the Office of Environmental Health Services for the state Department of Health and Human Resources, said in a prepared statement Tuesday.

"The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] says these appliances should not be operated near an open window or window air conditioner, which may allow fumes to enter the home."

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, poisonous gas that can be deadly or cause illness. The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and altered mental status.

DHHR recommends getting fresh air immediately and calling 911 if you suspect you or a family member has CO poisoning.

Sayre offered the following safety tips for those using power generators:

 

  • Never use a generator in an attached garage, even with the door open.
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  • Place generators so exhaust fumes can't enter the home through windows, doors or other openings in the building.
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  • Install carbon monoxide alarms in your home. Follow manufacturers' instructions for correct placement and mounting height.
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  • Turn off a generator and let it cool down before refueling. Never refuel a generator while it is running.
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  • Store fuel for the generator in a container that is intended for the purpose and is correctly labeled as such. Store containers outside of living areas.
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    Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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