Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


July 3, 2012

The perfect storm: Despite adversity, region pulls together

Call it the perfect storm. Everything that could possibly go wrong for our region went horribly awry this past weekend. And the misery continues for thousands on both sides of the state line who are still without electricity and water during this sweltering heat wave. Some may, in fact, spend the Fourth of July in the dark.

The chaos ensued Friday night as a large, dark and menacing cloud passed over Bluefield, Va. Several keen-eyed observers realized that the massive storm was on a direct path with Mitchell Stadium where thousands were seated for the Second Chance Rocks the Two Virginias Concert. This could have been a disaster — a horrific disaster — for our region.

Somehow — someway — emergency responders across the region were able to safely evacuate Mitchell Stadium. Thousands were removed from the stadium before the 80 mph wind gusts pounded the stage Eric Church and Jake Owen were to perform on. The destructive winds even moved a 5,000 pound wall that was beside the stage. It was a miracle — a blessed miracle — that no one was hurt or seriously injured at the stadium.

But the damage caused by the powerful storm Friday night was still significant. Trees and power lines across the region were downed. More than a half million customers in Appalachian Power’s service area were left without electricity — on a weekend when the mercury soared into the triple digits. No power. No fans. No air-conditioning. And in some instances no water. Pure misery. Plain and simple.

Adding further insult to injury, another round of powerful storms with wind gusts of up to 60 mph hammered the region late Sunday night resulting in additional power outages. But through it all, we have endured. We have weathered the storm.

Let’s face it. Things could have been a lot worse. The electricity was still on Saturday morning for some parts of Mercer and Tazewell counties.

Residents and businesses in the city of Beckley, by comparison, were left largely in the dark over the weekend, sending hundreds from the city to Princeton and Bluefield in search of fuel, ice and a prepared meal.

Some in our region — Mercer, McDowell, Tazewell and Raleigh counties — could still be without power come the Fourth of July. In fact, Appalachian Power estimates that service may not be restored to all customers in Mercer and McDowell counties until Friday.

In the meantime, temporary shelters and cooling stations remain operational across the region, including at the Princeton Rescue Squad, the Bluefield Union Mission, the Chuck Mathena Center in Princeton, the Union Senior Center and the Lindside Senior Center. A 5,000-gallon water tanker has been placed at Kimball Elementary School in McDowell County to assist those who are without water.

We will endure. We always do. We have survived floods of historic proportions. We have survived a crippling blizzard. We have survived widespread power outages before — both in the bitter cold and the crippling heat. Those of us who live in the coalfields are used to adversity. It brings out the best in us.

Seek shelter if needed. Stay cool. Check on your neighbors — especially those who are elderly. Keep the faith. The lights and air-conditioners will eventually come back on — and, with hope, sooner rather than later.

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