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Storm-damaged counties check in with governor, National Guard

Chris Dorst
Speaking through a teleconference hookup at National Guard headquarters to emergency service officials across the state on Wednesday were (front row from left) Chuck Runyon, emergency operations manager for the state Department of Transportation, Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, the state's adjutant general, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Jimmy Gianato, state director of homeland security and emergency management.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Power outages, roads blocked by toppled trees and the threat of roof collapse from thick accumulations of wet, heavy snow continued to plague West Virginians living in the state's highlands three days after the remnants of Hurricane Sandy stormed into the state.

On Wednesday, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, the state's adjutant general, and state emergency management director Jimmy Gianato took part in video teleconference sessions with emergency services officials in 20 of West Virginia's hardest-hit counties.

"The idea is to do what West Virginians do in times like these -- we check in on each other," Tomblin said during a break between sessions.

Topics discussed included the evacuation of 72 residents of the Summersville Manor apartment complex in Nicholas County before the building's roof partially collapsed early Wednesday, and the storm-related shutdown of the Mount Storm Power Station in Grant County.

"Water absorbing into the snow is threatening roofs in areas of heavy snowfall," Gianato said.  A total of eight snow-related roof collapses have damaged homes and businesses in Nicholas County so far, including two convenience stores and a grocery store. No injuries were reported.

Emergency officials in Grant County reported during the teleconference that the 1,600-megawatt Mount Storm Power Station in Grant County, Dominion's largest coal-fired power plant, was not operating as a result of the storm, which dumped 35 inches of snow on the area.

Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle said a storm-related fault triggered the automatic shutdown of two of three generating units at the plant on Monday night. Mount Storm's third unit had been shut down earlier for planned maintenance, he said.  

The shutdown of the power plant has nothing to do with regional customer outages, Norvelle said, "It just means we have to get the electricity from another power station or purchase it from off the power pool," he said.

Fifteen people spent the night at an emergency shelter in the Mount Storm Volunteer Fire Department, Grant County emergency officials reported.

Trees toppled by heavy snow continued to block highways on Wednesday, including a section of U.S. 119 in Taylor County, a stretch of U.S. 250 in the Belington area of Barbour County, and U.S. 219 between Parsons and the Randolph County line in Tucker County. Also in Tucker County, portions of W.Va. 72 and W.Va. 38 were closed by fallen trees, as was a section of U.S. 50 near Cheat Mountain in Preston County.

Emergency officials in Preston County told Tomblin, Hoyer, Gianato and other National Guard headquarters personnel that even along many of the main highways in that county, only one lane is open to traffic because of fallen trees and power lines. Hoyer said that sometime Thursday, at least one additional tree-removal crew was expected to join two others already working in the county.

Thirty Preston County families without power and a contracting crew staying at a motel that lost power were provided with food and emergency housing in motel-style dormitories at the West Virginia National Guard's Camp Dawson training complex near Kingwood. Camp Dawson on Wednesday was using generators to power its facilities, since it was among the 78 percent of Preston County power customers left without electricity.

Tomblin said high winds and poor visibility were keeping helicopters from surveying storm damage to transmission lines, slowing the process of power restoration.

"The biggest thing left to do is getting the power back on, and right now the power companies can't fly the lines to see where the damage is," he said."

Jefferson County Emergency Services Director Barbara Miller told the governor that Opequon Creek crested slightly above flood stage late Tuesday. "It got into garages, outbuildings and picnic areas," she said, but caused no serious damage. Firefighters initiated water rescues to bring four people to safety who had attempted to drive roads covered by standing water.

The Potomac River was expected to crest slightly above flood stage at Harpers Ferry late Wednesday, but not cause significant damage to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

Wednesday's teleconference sessions, held in the Joint Operations Center at the West Virginia National Guard's headquarters building, also involved input from members of National Guard liaison teams sent to storm-damaged counties to work with local emergency officials.

So far, a total of 250 West Virginia Army National Guard troops have been mobilized for storm relief duty, which in addition to liaison work, involves clearing downed trees from roadways, bringing food and medicine to people stranded by the storm, and transporting others to shelter.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.


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