The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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July 6, 2012

Rahall meets power crews, passes out water

Power crews struggling to get downed lines up and feeding electricity again across storm-battered southern West Virginia faced not only hilly, rugged terrain and 90-degree weather, but a little heat of late from impatient homeowners.

Not among the critics, however, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., met with a contingent of Appalachian Power workers and contractors at first light Thursday to shower them with praise for non-stop efforts since last Friday’s storm.

“Even though you may get complaints out on the job, people yelling in your faces, please know we all do appreciate what you’re doing,” Rahall told some power crews gathered for a safety meeting in Cranberry.

“Sometimes patience is stretched a little thin. Please know that everyone of us to a person appreciates, whether we say it or not, what you’re doing.”

Dave Langford, external affairs manager for Appalachian Power, said the greater Beckley area is typically serviced by 90 APCO employees but is currently operating with a staff of transmission and distribution employees, and line and tree removal contractors, totaling approximately 550.

As Rahall departed home for the all-day tour with Langford, the Congressman’s home street of Harper Road was thrown in the dark, not by another storm but by a single-car accident along W.Va. 3.

After wrapping up the day, Rahall disclosed he is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to see about individual West Virginians qualifying for assistance in addition to aid already given to the state.

Admittedly, it’s a longshot, the 3rd District congressman pointed out, since damage must attain a certain threshold, believed to be about $1 million.

“It doesn’t look likely at this point,” Rahall said.

“But that doesn’t mean we’ve given up on securing that disaster declaration. Right now, all FEMA is doing is providing generators, food and water and other basic necessities as kind of a backup, a silent partner. They are in the state. I’ve talked to two of them in Pineville. They are doing their assessment, along with the state.”

From Cranberry, the congressman moved on to a remote spot in Glen White, “in the middle of nowhere, it appeared,” as a crew trudged up a mountainside in efforts to pinpoint the trouble. Before long, the source of the outage was discovered.

With nearly 80 percent of West Virginia forested, Rahall said it is unfair to level criticism of power workers in full regalia, battling to locate downed lines and get electrical service restored.

“All it takes is one tree to knock out a substation in a remote area that will affect thousands elsewhere,” he said.

In a sense, he said, the perils and trying circumstances in their job are akin to a military operation, or something that is a common mission in West Virginia — freeing miners trapped in underground mines.

“They have to be cognizant of what dangers lurk that may cause them to lose their lives as well,” Rahall said.

“And that takes time. There’s a great deal of mapping and going over what’s hidden here and what’s hidden there. It’s not (an easy job). They have to do a reconnaissance to make sure it’s safe for them to go in. It may appear that to the naked eye that everything is OK, but only they can spot where a hidden line is or trouble that could endanger their own lives. To somebody, it may look like a slow process. It’s a life-saving process is what it is.”

Rahall then traveled to Lewisburg where he joined the PGA TOUR Wives and the American Red Cross in passing out water, and later in the day repeated this effort in Ronceverte.

As with many other West Virginians, the horrendous blast of wind last Friday night that knocked out service to more than 680,000 residents expanded his weather vocabulary — the term derecho suddenly came into vogue.

A derecho is a long-lasting, widespread, rapid windstorm that moves in a straight line, and this one fit the description.

“Each one of these seems to be a different type of test for us,” Rahall said of nature’s cruel twists.

While thousands remained in the dark across the southern counties, the congressman appealed for more forbearance until normalcy returns.

“We’ll get through this crisis,” he said.

“It just takes patience. We’ve got to help each other and that’s what West Virginians are known for.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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