West Virginians help storm-hit northeast
SPENCER, W.Va. -- John Denbigh and Joe Wilson take elections seriously.
"The vote is the most precious thing we have in this country," said Denbigh, co-owner of Casto-Harris election supply company in Spencer.
So when customers in Nassau County, N.Y., called on the Friday before the general election to find out if there were any spare generators available in West Virginia, Denbigh and Wilson sprang into action.
"Joe's brother-in-law -- and my cousin -- just happens to be in the hardware business," Denbigh said.
Wilson and Denbigh called on Hardman's, a hardware chain with seven stores in West Virginia, to find out if there were any generators around. Hardman's general manager, Randall Walker, said he got the call for generators at about 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 2. By then, most West Virginians who needed generators had already bought one.
Jason Starcher, manager of the Spencer store, said company officials checked with the other stores, rounded up 17 generators and sent them to Spencer. By 5 a.m. Nov. 3, a truck was on its way to Nassau County on storm-ravaged Long Island. The generators were used to power polling places on Tuesday.
The generator roundup wasn't the only way West Virginians have helped their northeastern neighbors in the wake of superstorm Sandy. Even as crews were digging out from a massive snowstorm that blanketed much of the state, the Mountain State was sending help north.
Mike Jarrett, spokesman for the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority, said Kanawha County sent five ambulances and crews to the New York area when it became apparent that Sandy was going to do major damage in the area.
"They've been moving all over the place," Jarrett said, working 18-hour days around New York and New Jersey, often sleeping in their vehicles.
Lt. Col. Dave Lester, spokesman for the West Virginia National Guard, said the state guard sent nine people to New York to help out following the storm. All specialists in repairing and maintaining generators, they were expected to spend a week to 10 days in the area.
Jeri Matheney, spokeswoman for Appalachian Power Co., said 200 Appalachian Power repair crews left for New Jersey on Wednesday, where a second Nor'easter is expected to cause further damage and flooding. Appalachian Power was able to spare the crews after most of the cleanup work was finished in West Virginia.
Having sold election supplies to Nassau County before, Wilson and Denbigh knew the bind they would be in without power in their polling places. There was no question of helping out.
"It's a testament to West Virginia's spirit," said Denbigh.
"We work together and figure out how to pull things off," said Walker, completing the thought.
Hardman's sold Nassau County election officials 5,550-watt, 6,500-watt and 7,500-watt generators from prices that ranged from $800 to $1,000 apiece, the same price they charge anyone else.
Election officials were thrilled to pay the price. They said much smaller 3,500-watt generators - when they could be found - were selling in New York for up to $2,800.
"We could have done that," Walker said. "But it's not in our philosophy to do that."
Wilson agreed. "This is the time to take care of friends, not take advantage of friends," he said.
Reach Rusty Marks at email@example.com or 304-348-1215.