CHARLESTON — Utility crews continued working to restore power across West Virginia as tens of thousands of households and businesses remained without electricity following severe storms that prompted President Barack Obama to issue a federal emergency declaration.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin toured storm-damaged areas across West Virginia on Sunday, including in McDowell, Greenbrier, Raleigh and Fayette counties, and later issued a statement advising only essential state workers to report to their jobs on Monday. He cited widespread power outages, closed gas stations and concerns that the roads be kept clear for utility crews and emergency personnel.
Tomblin described essential state workers as those defined as such by their commissions or directors; those who work at facilities open around-the-clock; and employees who provide services relating to the health, safety and welfare of West Virginia residents.
Appalachian Power spokeswoman Jeri Matheney said Sunday afternoon that 289,000 customers lacked electricity, nearly two days after heavy winds swept across the state. Raleigh County was especially hard hit, with up to 98 percent of customers losing power at some time. FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Meyer said about 204,000 of the utility's customers were without power.
Appalachian Power has enlisted workers and utility trucks from other states, including Missouri, Alabama and Florida, and restoration is expected to speed up by Monday and Tuesday upon their arrival.
High winds toppled numerous trees, downing power lines. Matheney says the storm also took out 50 substations, and restoring them will take extensive work.
Friday's storms also prompted the West Virginia Supreme Court to close all state courts on Monday because of the outages.
Several cities across West Virginia had cooling and water stations available for residents without power and unable to use their air conditioning during the hot weather.
In the Charleston area, the Charleston Civic Center, several recreation centers, the libraries and a couple fire stations opened their doors for the public. West Virginia State University in Institute opened its Fine Arts Theatre and was showing family-friendly movies to those who sought a cool place to spend Sunday afternoon.
Huntington churches and fire stations opened their doors on Sunday, and the Salvation Army also offered a place to stay overnight. In Jefferson County, Washington High School opened its doors for those needing to cool down or get water.
The storm outages also brought out the worst in some, as thieves stole gas- and diesel-fueled generators from several Frontier Communications centers, hindering the Internet and telephone company's ability to operate.
Frontier's senior vice president Dana Waldo says Frontier uses the generators to power its networks when commercial power goes down.
"This level of lawlessness is remarkable during a statewide emergency," Waldo said Sunday in a statement. "These thefts create significant problems for us as we strive to provide service to customers who rely on their landline telephones."
Public officials also are reminding generator owners to use the machines safely, including running them in well-ventilated areas to safeguard from carbon monoxide poisoning.