Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 19, 2013

Digging out, powering up

Crews work to restore electricity to thousands in two Virginias

Bluefield Daily Telegraph


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — The winter storm that blew into southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia on Thursday dropped snowfall totals ranging from 10 inches to a foot of snow, forcing the temporary closure of all four lanes of I-77 in the two Virginias and left thousands of people in the dark.

“We have a lot of people out working to restore power in the area,” Phil Moye, spokesperson for Appalachian Power said. “Our customers in Virginia were particularly hard hit and so were our Tennessee customers. At the peak, we had a little more than 3,000 West Virginia customers who lost power, but in Virginia, more than 120,000 customers lost power.”

Moye said that in addition to the 1,600 locally based APCO employees and contractors, 1,400 line workers and 250 damage assessors were in the field early Friday working to restore power throughout the region.

Bland County, Va., has a little more than 6,000 residents, and Appalachian Power reported 3,257 power outages in Bland this morning. Other hard-hit counties in Virginia included Giles County, where 6,518 outages were reported early Friday morning as well as the 2,768 outages in Buchanan County. West Virginia counties fared a little better with Monroe County having 1,585 customers without power, 1,061 in Mercer County and 542 in McDowell. Those numbers improved dramatically through the day.

“Our forestry guys are working in Bland County, trying to get power restored down there,” Moye said. “That is a large percentage of the population that doesn’t have power.”

The snowfall total in Bluefield was 10 inches, but several areas on the southern slope of East River Mountain received as much as a foot or more of snow. With temperatures dropping to 23 degrees, the heavy rain that fell in advance of the storm formed a solid sheet of thick ice this morning leading to wrecks throughout the region.

“You’ll have some melt off during the next three days, but you should still have some snow on the ground in shady spots for a few days,” James Clark, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Blacksburg, Va., said. “You will have clear skies for the next few days, but temperatures below freezing at night, so not all of the snow will melt off. You’ll probably lose about half.”

The Weather Service doesn’t have any snow in the forecast through the early part of next week although temperatures after dark will fall to 10 degrees on Monday night with nighttime lows remaining in the low teens through the early part of the week. “You still have a fair amount of snow cover to melt off,” Clark said.

Early Friday morning, Sgt., M.S. Haynes, assistant detachment commander of the Princeton Detachment of the West Virginia State Police, said several trucks are parked on U.S. Route 460 near Exit 9 of I-77 waiting for the interstate to reopen. Getting traffic on the busy interstate moving again proved to be a major challenge.

“It took a little time to get them going again,” Michelle Earl said. Earl is a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Transportation. “Basically, we had to wake several of these truckers up to get them going again.”

Earl reported that I-77 northbound in Bland County was cleared at 4 a.m., but the southbound lanes of I-77 at the 56-mile marker remained closed due to a tractor-trailer wreck. Earl reported at 9:25 a.m., that I-77 had been cleared between the East River Mountain and Big Walker Mountain tunnels, but as traffic started to clear from Mercer County, additional traffic jams followed.

Once the sun came out and melted ice off roads, traffic went back to traditional speeds.

An emergency shelter was opened Friday evening at the Ballard Volunteer Fire Department in Monroe County. For more information on the shelter call 304-772-3912.