Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Breaking News

October 30, 2012

Obama approves state of emergency declaration for West Virginia

CHARLESTON — Superstorm Sandy buried parts of West Virginia under more than a foot of snow on Tuesday, cutting power to at least 243,000 customers and closing dozens of roads. At least one death was reported.

The storm not only hit higher elevations hard as predicted, communities in lower elevations got much more than the dusting of snow forecasters had first thought from a dangerous system that also brought significant rainfall, high wind gusts and small-stream flooding.

President Barack Obama early Tuesday approved a state of emergency declaration sought by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. It authorizes federal assistance for storm-related issues in the state.

Blizzard warnings remained in effect for more than a dozen counties. Webster Springs received 17 inches of snow, while 15 inches was on the ground in Fayetteville Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service said.

“This is worse than what we’re used to,” said Josh Mallow, a 23-year-old construction worker, as he shoveled 8 to 10 inches of heavy, wet snow to dig out his pickup truck in Elkins. “It’s wet, gobby stuff. It’s pretty nasty.”

“I think I’m going to hang out at the house, drink some cocoa maybe.”

Mallo said he was well equipped to do without power for awhile.

At least 33 roads were closed by snow, ice, high water, and downed trees and power lines. Interstate 68 was closed from Morgantown to the Maryland line. Other major road closures included U.S. 250 in Barbour and Randolph counties and U.S. 219 in Tucker County, said state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Leslie Fitzwater.

State officials asked that only essential state workers report to work.

“It’s a mess out there and people should stay home if they can until our first responders can get out there, clear the roads and get to those who need the most assistance,” Fitzwater said.

Travis Rodland, 32, of Loysburg, Pa., and three crew members sat in the lobby of a darkened hotel in Elkins, unable to reach their remodeling job at a convenience store in Parsons.

“We left the hotel to try to go to the store and watched a tree fall in front of us on the road. So we had to turn back,” he said. “Just impassable.”

Police rescued several motorists stranded on I-68. Seven emergency shelters were set up, mainly in mountainous counties, and the West Virginia National Guard had teams in eight counties to help local authorities deal with weather-related problems, she said.

The storm was blamed for the death of a 40-year-old woman whose car collided with a cement truck Monday in Tucker County.

In southern West Virginia, Appalachian Power reported 127,000 customers without electricity Tuesday morning. First Energy reported 116,000 outages in northern and eastern counties.

More than 400 contractors from as far away as Oklahoma and Texas were brought in to help Appalachian Power assess damage to power equipment and restore electricity, said Appalachian Power spokesman Phil Moye.

“It is a bit of a surprise to see the snow go into the lower elevations,” Moye said. “We were expecting it in higher elevations. To go into those lower elevations is causing additional problems.”

Flood warnings were issued in Berkeley, Grant, Jefferson and Morgan counties in the Eastern Panhandle.

Terrance Lively with the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said there had been no evacuations as of early Tuesday morning but emergency officials were monitoring Opequon Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River.

The massive power outages came nearly four months after a June 29 windstorm known as a derecho left more than 680,000 state customers without electricity.

Skeletons, ghouls and other Halloween creatures dangled from the porch of the Donaldson home in Elkins, where the snow was piled high on the roof and shrubs.

Sandra and Douglas Donaldson returned Monday night from Brooksville, Fla., driving 2 1/2 hours from Yeager Airport in Charleston to Elkins, about half an hour longer than the trip usually takes.

“It wasn’t bad until we got to the Randolph County line. Then it was just massive snow,” Sandra Donaldson said.

“Actually, it’s not quite as much as we expected. We’re kind of relieved, just looking at some of the damage.”

The couple lost an apple tree and a tent-style gazebo in the backyard.

“So far, it hasn’t been too bad. But it’s still snowing so we’ve still got more to come,” she said.

Schools in at least 39 of the state’s 55 counties were closed, along with judicial offices in at least eight counties. The state high school soccer tournament in Beckley scheduled for this weekend was postponed until next week.

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