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West Virginia has an ice day

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Most West Virginians woke up to subzero temperatures on Tuesday -- and for some, the day that followed was filled with frozen water pipes, cars that wouldn't start and desperate attempts to stay warm.

But the biggest problem for many West Virginians was power outages. Thousands of people woke up without electricity in temperatures that were the coldest the state had seen in nearly two decades.

Appalachian Power, which supplies electricity to most of the southern half of West Virginia, reported 3,665 customers without power Tuesday morning, including hundreds in Cabell, Mercer and Raleigh counties.

"The highest demand for power seems to be early-morning hours," said Appalachian Power spokesman Phil Moye. "And today that's when we had the most outages."

PJM Interconnection, which operates the power grid in West Virginia and other states, asked users around the region to conserve electricity on Tuesday afternoon.

By Tuesday evening, Apco had restored power to most places in West Virginia except Lincoln County, where nearly 2,000 customers remained without power.

FirstEnergy, which supplies power to much of the northern and eastern parts of the state, listed more than 5,700 customers without electricity this morning, with many of those in Pocahontas and Mineral counties. By evening, that was down to fewer than 900 customers, with nearly 600 in Gilmer County.

"The repairs are not as difficult as you would think for a winter storm," Moye said. "It's not a lot of trees down and broken poles -- it's changing out equipment."

That seemed to be a common refrain among state officials -- despite the brutal cold, things could have been worse.

"We still want folks to take it slow, but we really haven't had any major issues today," said state Division of Highways spokeswoman Carrie Bly. "Which is surprising and good. Most of our major routes are OK."

Bly said most Interstates and major highways were clear by Tuesday afternoon, but some secondary roads still had some snow and ice. In all, the state's roads were "pretty good," she said.

Lawrence Messina, communications director for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, said there were no reports of weather-related deaths or major accidents overnight.

Fire officials were still trying to decide if a fire in Logan County that killed an elderly woman was related to the weather, Messina said. Claire Dingess, 90, died in the overnight fire, according to the state Fire Marshal's Office. The fire began in a laundry room and appears to have been accidental, officials said.

Charleston's low temperature of 3 degrees below zero matched the city's lowest for Jan. 7, a record set in 1942. It was the city's lowest temperature on any date since February 1996.

Huntington (minus 4) and Parkersburg (minus 6) set records for the date, as did Morgantown (minus 7), Beckley (minus 9) and Wheeling (minus 10), according to the National Weather Service. The morning low at Snowshoe Mountain Resort in Pocahontas County reached 20 degrees below zero, according to the Weather Service.

Another ski resort, Canaan Valley, in Davis, closed its slopes because of dangerous conditions, said West Virginia Ski Areas Association spokesman Joe Stevens.

Canaan ski instructor Bill Smith said the combination of 18-below-zero readings and high winds made it feel like 70 below overnight. Readings had rebounded to minus 4 by midafternoon.

"The cold wasn't all that bad," Smith said. "It was the wind."

Smith, who's been a professional skier for 35 years and also runs the Tucker County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he believes the last time the resort shut down its slopes was in the 1980s.

"It's hard on the employees as well as the guests," Smith said. "I think it's a good move instead of taking a chance."

A shelter at Harvest Time Church of God, at 1704 Washington St. West in Charleston, had 20 men stay Monday night, a worker there said.

"Most of them were coming in off the streets," said Gaynor Edwards. "A lot of the guys we get through here spend the summer sleeping under bridges. There's just no way they could make it out there on a night like last night."

The shelter is open 24 hours for men looking to stay out of the cold. Many of the Harvest Time's patrons know it's there, but the shelter will also go to bridges and other places they know men sleep. They'll give out thermoses filled with soup, as well as fliers letting them know where the shelter is located.

"We're here, and if anyone needs us, we're more than willing to provide any assistance in getting them out of the cold this winter," Edwards said.

A Red Cross warming shelter at the Boys and Girls Club on Charleston's West Side hosted three people last night, according to Red Cross spokeswoman Krista Farley Raines. The shelter was on standby Tuesday evening should people need to get out of the cold.

West Virginia American Water workers spent the day fixing pipes cracked by the frigid temperatures.

"We were prepared for that and made sure we had the resources in place to address that," said spokeswoman Laura Jordan. "We [did] have some crews working in the Kanawha Valley ... to fix leaks, particularly any that were causing ice in the roadways."

Because of dangerous working conditions for crews, utility employees were required to work in pairs, Jordan said.

Water main breaks were widespread Monday and Tuesday, including several in the Huntington and Barboursville areas. As of Tuesday afternoon, a boil-water advisory had been issued for several thousand customers in the Barboursville area, from the Huntington Mall and U.S. 60 to Ona.

Other pipes broke on South Ruffner Road in Charleston and Georges Drive in St. Albans. At the federal courthouse in Clarksburg, ruptured water pipes flooded the offices of U.S. District Judge Irene Keeley and Magistrate Judge John Kaull.

West Virginia American Water only handles breaks outside customers' homes, but Jordan said the utility advised its customers on preventing and addressing freezing pipes in the days prior to cold temperatures.

"To prevent it, customers can open up their cabinet doors to any sinks that may have plumbing exposed to exterior walls," Jordan said.

Residents can also leave water running from faucets -- about the thickness of a pencil lead -- to prevent freezing.

For those whose pipes have frozen, the utility recommends shutting off their main valves to prevent leaks from thawing. If customers can locate the point at which water is frozen, using indirect heat from a hair dryer is helpful in thawing them, Jordan said. "We don't recommend any type of open flame or kerosene heater or anything like that," she said.

Once thawed, the main line can be slowly opened to make sure no leaks or cracks have occurred in pipes.

The cold caused problems for some Kanawha County businesses.

Workers at Qdoba in the Dudley Farms Plaza arrived at a store without heat Tuesday morning. The restaurant closed for the day because no one could repair its heating system.

At D&D Outfitters, frozen pipes forced the store to close early on Tuesday.

Aoleen Stavrulakis and her husband, Manoli, operate Pizza Barbarossa in Dudley Farms and Café Creperi in the Shoppes at Trace Fork. They closed both restaurants Tuesday because of cold temperatures.

Staff writers Caitlin Cook and Lydia Nuzum and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215. Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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