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One year later, businesses learn lessons from derecho

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rick Joseph had one of the few stores in the Charleston area that had power after last June's derecho.

"Ice was worth gold last year," said Joseph, who owns the Foodland in Kanawha City. "We bought all the ice we could get our hands on but still couldn't supply it."

The high-powered storm that swept through the region one year ago caused widespread power outages leaving people without air conditioning in sweltering heat. People flocked to stores but found crowded aisles and low supplies of essential items like water, ice and batteries. Once gas stations regained power, long lines of cars quickly formed, with some customers waiting hours to buy what fuel they could.

The derecho left businesses struggling to keep up with consumer demands.

"It was very frustrating to try and keep up with the supply of water and ice, things that customers really needed with all the power outages," said Foodland manager Donna Slack.

Slack said they now keep a larger supply of water.

"We tried to do that last year, but we got behind right to start with," Slack said. "This time we'll try and be a little bit ahead of the game."

Little General Stores, a chain of convenience stores based in Beckley, lost power in 77 of their 91 stores.

Since the derecho, the company has begun installing generators at stores that are in what they consider problem areas.

"It seemed like every time we had any major storm, they lost power," said Brian Waugh, director of retail for Little General.

So far they have installed four generators in existing stores, and when new stores open they will install a generator.

"When you get customers that come into your store and you can't take care of them, that frustrates us greatly," Waugh said. "It was more of a panic mood, customers were looking for direction."

Waugh believes Little General Stores will be more prepared for business during the aftermath of severe weather but admits the derecho was a wake up call.

Janet Vineyard, president of West Virginia Oil Marketers and Grocers Association, sits down after every crisis to evaluate businesses' responses.

"Every time we go through some type of crisis we learn something," Vineyard said. "But this one was different than anything we've been through."

Derecho storms form rapidly, without much warning to allow businesses to prepare.

Many gas stations had gas during the derecho but the pumps wouldn't operate without electricity.

"The fact that we had fuel but couldn't get it out of the ground was the biggest problem," Vineyard said. "It certainly changed the way we do business." Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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