Last month’s paralyzing derecho threw most of West Virginia in the dark for several days, disrupted communications and imposed hardships in a summer heat wave and threatened the health of many.
Now that normalcy has returned, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., has raised a frightening question:
Did the crippling storm expose a vulnerability to the nation’s energy grid?
“I believe this storm has far greater implications than just being one for the record books,” Rahall said, in joining other officials to support Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s efforts to land federal relief money for West Virginians.
“The magnitude of this disaster, and subsequent storms, raise concerns about the vulnerabilities of our electrical grid and our ability to rapidly respond to similar crises.”
Rahall said Congress would do well to examine what gaps are there “and what flaws in our emergency response may need fixing.”
The first storm barreled across the state June 29, and smaller thunderstorms came on its heels, again knocking out power to thousands of residents.
Tomblin asked the White House this week to declare a major disaster, allowing residents to be eligible for relief. Such a declaration would provide financial aid to state agencies, counties, cities, towns and public service districts.
While the jury is still out on the amount of damages, Tomblin said the final number likely would exceed millions of dollars.
Among counties Tomblin targeted for aid in the removal of debris and in restoring roads, bridges, water control facilities and utilities are Clay, Fayette, Greenbrier, McDowell, Mercer, Monroe, Nicholas, Raleigh, Summers and Wyoming.
Tomblin said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is working in tandem with state emergency teams to assess losses suffered by residential and private sector business properties.
Rahall called on the Obama administration to “pull out all the federal stops and get this request approved” right away.
“In West Virginia, far more family budgets and businesses have been harmed than traditional assistance programs may readily recognize, and so I have asked that special consideration be given to these unusual and broadly felt effects,” the 3rd District congressman said.
Adding his support to Tomblin’s request, Sen. Joe Manchin, also D-W.Va., said businesses, health care entities, 911 centers, water and sewer systems and cell towers became inoperative.
“Community resources are severely depleted and officials are faced with the daunting task of rebuilding local infrastructure,” Manchin said.
In a letter to the president, Manchin said assistance is needed to help communities rebuild across the state.
At its height, the sudden storm, packing hurricane-like winds that exceeded 80 miles per hour, disrupted service to 680,000 people across West Virginia. Tomblin’s request would cover 45 counties.
“The damages are beyond the magnitude of the capabilities of the state and local governments to adequately repair the damages alone,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller, also D-W.Va., said in a separate letter to the president.
“The impact of West Virginia solely funding the response and assistance to this disaster would certainly overwhelm the state’s economic resources, as well as its ability to provide disaster assistance to its citizens.”
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