By Carra Higgins and Sarah Plummer
Residents throughout southern West Virginia woke Tuesday to an outdoor scene that looked more like Christmas Eve than the day before Halloween as a result of one of the most widespread storms to ever hit the East Coast.
Predictions of snow-covered Appalachian Mountains coupled with expected power outages were correct and an additional 4 to 6 inches could fall on top of the approximate 16 inches or more the area received Monday night and Tuesday morning, the National Weather service says. The blizzard warning remains in effect though 4 p.m. today, but “the worst is over, pretty much,” said one NWS meteorologist.
In addition to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s earlier declaration of a state of emergency, President Barack Obama on Tuesday declared a federal state of emergency in West Virginia. The president’s declaration will enable federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts because of the emergency conditions that residents across the Mountain State are facing.
The state of emergency authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures.
Tuesday afternoon Tomblin conducted a press conference regarding the storm and its damage. Tomblin said weather has hindered Appalachian Power Co.’s efforts to restore electricity to its West Virginia customers. It’s estimated that 50 transmission lines were down Tuesday.
Crews will be flying in helicopters to assess damage because many roadways are impassable; however, helicopters will not be able to fly until at least Thursday, Tomblin said. Between 600 and 700 APCO workers are ready to begin restoration as soon as the weather allows, Tomblin added.
Between 8 a.m. and noon Tuesday, the number of Mon Power and Appalachian Power customers left in the dark across West Virginia increased from 117,000 to nearly 268,000.
More than 50,000 customers were without power by 2 p.m., including 13,646 customers in Fayette County, 11,000 in Nicholas County, 10,000 in Wyoming County and 11,600 in Raleigh County.
Complete power restoration could take up to seven days.
Tomblin also said primary roadways are being treated and plowed. After those are clear, crews will move on to secondary roads.
Shelters across the state are opening and 7 million meals and liters of water are being shipped and distributed to West Virginia emergency shelters.
Tomblin is urging residents to stay off the roadways and check on friends and neighbors.
NWS data says around 16 inches of snow fell in Beckley. As of Tuesday afternoon, it was still too early to know if October snow records were broken. A meteorologist with NWS said access to weather record resource systems were down and they would likely have more information today.
“Something’s got to be broken,” he said.
The snow and low 30s marks will begin to move out of the area Friday and give way to some rain and steadily increasing temperatures. Saturday will likely be the first day of sunshine and warmer weather.
The West Virginia National Guard has deployed Liaison Officer Teams in Fayette County, as well as other counties in West Virginia that were hit hard by high winds, rain and snow. These teams act as the focal point between requests for service from the county emergency management offices and the National Guard.
“The situation is extremely fluid right now and the governor has authorized us to bring on additional Guardsmen as needed,” National Guard Adjutant General James A. Hoyer said. “We will be around as long as it takes for people to get some kind of normalcy in their lives. We will continue to work alongside the Department of Transportation, Forestry, Health and Human Resources, State Police and many other agencies and respond to the needs of the citizens.”
Snow isn’t out of the ordinary for Raleigh County, but in October it is. However, residents and emergency crews were ready in advance for the nearly spot-on weather predictions.
Tuesday afternoon, Raleigh County emergency operations was working to open shelters at Independence Middle School, Shady Spring Middle School and Trap Hill Middle School. Three other shelters — the Dream Center, Raleigh County Community Action and the Commission on Aging — opened Monday afternoon.
Marty Agee, EOC director, said she was unsure how many people might use the shelters because many people prefer to stay with family instead. Those who use nebulizers, oxygen or other medical equipment may go to the Center on Aging shelter, which has been open since Monday.
Agee says the EOC does not have generators to distribute to private residents, and those who do go to a shelter are asked to bring their medical equipment, personal hygiene items, a change of clothing and a pillow.
Agee was expecting National Guard members to arrive Tuesday in Raleigh County for further assistance.
Through all the snow and power outages, Agee credited Raleigh County residents for their positive attitudes and being prepared for the storm. She added that the late June wind storm was still fresh in the minds of many residents, who heeded warnings of the potential for significant snowfall and power outages.
As residents were bunkered in their homes, power company and DOH crews were working to clear fallen trees from roadways and power lines in some areas of the county, Agee said.
“If you don’t have to travel, don’t,” Agee added.
Anyone in need of immediate medical assistance or transportation to a hospital should call 911 for transport, she said.
Although additional generators are being sent to local Public Service Districts and water tanks were filled Monday, Agee is also asking that residents conserve water during this time.
Raleigh County’s emergency crews on Tuesday responded to minor traffic accidents, impassable roads and downed trees. An Emergency Operation Center dispatcher confirmed that there were several calls about cars in ditches and other accidents; however, at around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, no one had to be transported for medical attention.
Among the roads that were closed to traffic included a section of Harper Road between Robert C. Byrd Drive and Westwood Drive. Beckley Police Chief Tim Deems said midday Tuesday that vehicles were stuck on Harper Road and DOH crews were called to clear and treat the section.
All the snow and concerns for safety have prompted Beckley and Raleigh County to postpone Trick-or-Treat until Saturday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m, Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh said in a news release.
The Summers County Emergency Operations Center reported that Summers County had few power outages. Only about 300 individuals lost power and most of those were restored by 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The dispatcher also said the county had no displaced persons and no requests for shelters to open.
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