By C.V. Moore
At the Richwood Food and Clothing Pantry in Nicholas County, the Rev. John Reed and his volunteers are cooking in crock pots to feed the refugees pouring into the emergency shelter seeking warmth, light and food.
“We’re here for the duration,” says Reed. “We don’t know how long that’s going to be yet.”
Richwood residents are contending with a loss of water, power and cell service due to Superstorm Sandy.
“In 90 days we’ve gone through both extremes — the high winds this summer and now 3 feet of snow,” said Reed.
Along with the northern mountains, Nicholas County is one of the worst hit areas in the state.
At least 90 percent of the county was without power Wednesday afternoon, including half of Summersville and most outlying areas.
According to Nicholas County Office of Emergency Services, an estimated 5 to 6 feet of snow fell in the mountains around Nettie and Richwood. In Summersville, 3 to 4 feet of snow has gummed up the county’s main metropolitan area.
Eight structures in the county have collapsed under the weight of heavy, wet snow, including an apartment building in Summersville with 72 residents. No injuries or fatalities have been reported.
In Richwood, which has not had power since early Tuesday morning, more than 2,000 residents are without drinking water and fire protection. The water tanks have been depleted and there is no backup generator capacity, says Richwood Mayor Bob Johnson.
“We are depending solely on the electric utility for restoration of our service,” he says.
Appalachian Power estimates that it will have its Hico station, which feeds Nicholas, back up and running by late Friday night.
For Mon Power customers, the outlook is slightly bleaker. The company expects restoration by early next week, though some in remote areas may have an even longer wait.
Batteries on Richwood’s cell tower ran out at noon Tuesday, so residents are without cell service.
In Summersville, Mayor Robert Shafer and other officials were out clearing the streets of trees and snow Wednesday afternoon.
“It looks like the worst of the weather is behind us and now we’re feeling the aftermath,” he says. “It appears it won’t take us long to get back to normal, but we have quite a bit of damage due to the weight of the snow and toppling trees.”
Commuting around the county is “almost impossible,” says Shafer.
“We’re still trying to clean primary roads that are still not completely open,” Nicholas County Emergency Services Director Carla Hennessey said Wednesday afternoon. “The secondary roads are not even touched yet.”
Five roads were officially closed as of Wednesday evening due to snow and ice: Armstrong, Muddlety Valley, Hill Crest Lane, Hookersville Road, and Cherry Fork Highway.
W.Va. 20 is passable in one lane, reported Johnson.
Officials are pleading with residents to stay off the roads except for emergencies.
Four shelters are currently operating in Nicholas County — the Summersville Senior Center (beside Summersville Elementary, serving meals), Summers-ville Baptist Life Center (Whor-tleberry Avenue in Summers-ville), the Summersville Fire Department, and the Richwood Food and Clothing Pantry.
Seventeen stayed overnight Tuesday at the Summersville Senior Center. By Wednesday afternoon, 50 had taken up residence at the Richwood Food and Clothing Pantry, with more coming in all the time.
The 6,500-watt generator at the shelter in Richwood is not powerful enough to run a cook stove. Reed has shut down all unnecessary freezers in order to produce more heat. Right now, indoor temperatures are not especially warm, but not too cold either.
The National Weather Service is calling for a mix of rain and snow overnight, with drizzle, snow and freezing rain likely before 10 a.m. today Thursday. A chance of snow today Thursday should produce very little accumulation. The weather will warm up Friday, with a high near 42.
Nine National Guard troops are assisting running missions in Nicholas County.
Trick or treat in Summers-ville and Richwood was postponed. No date has yet been set for Halloween activities, says Shafer.
Schools in the county will remain closed today.
“Obviously it’s bad, but it could have been worse,” says Shafer. “We take one day at a time and count our blessings. We know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
For non-emergency assistance in Nicholas County, call 304-872-4911.
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