Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 5, 2012

Relief in sight?

PRINCETON — Like many people, Mary Deal and her family grilled out hot dogs as part of their Fourth of July celebrations, but instead of lighting up the grill at their home in Brushfork, the Deals cooked out at the Princeton Rescue Squad.

Deal and her family were among the thousands across the two Virginias who spent their Fourth of July in the dark as crews with Appalachian Power worked through the holiday Wednesday on restoration efforts.

An estimated 4,332 residents in Mercer County, 1,108 in McDowell County, 640 in Monroe County, 740 in Tazewell County, 825 in Bland County, 193 in Buchanan County and 3,561 in Giles County were still without power as of 7 p.m. Wednesday, according to APCO.

New estimates released by APCO said power should be restored to residents in Tazewell County by Thursday evening while services to Mercer, McDowell, Monroe, Bland, and Giles counties should be restored by Friday evening.

For now, Deal and her family are waiting at the shelter and cooling station set up by the Princeton Rescue Squad until their power returns.

“They said it might be Sunday before we get power back in our area, but we are hoping it will be Saturday night,” Deal said. “We’ve taken the kids outside today and had a little picnic with hot dogs to celebrate the Fourth.”

Deal said not being able to spend the holiday at home has made her “homesick.”

“You can only do so much in a place that’s not yours,” she said. “We’ve had to go bump around in the dark to get stuff, like clothes, and I’m sure we’ll have to throw out some food and things when we get back.”

Deal said she is thankful to the APCO workers, contractors and members of the rescue squad that are working during their holiday.

“We really appreciate them for working today,” she said. “It interrupted their lives and we are just so thankful that they are taking their holiday to help us get back to our normal lives. Not a lot of people would make that sacrifice. The rescue squad have been so supportive, letting us wash our clothes and taking us in.”

In McDowell County, a cooling station set up as an overnight shelter for residents was opened at Riverview High School in Bradshaw at 8 p.m. Wednesday evening, according to officials with McDowell County Emergency management. The shelter will be providing showers in addition to shelter. The only shelters operating as cooling stations in the county are at Riverview High School and the Five Loaves and Two Fishes Food Pantry in Kimball. Water is also being provided at the food pantry.

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Major Gen. James A. Hoyer with the West Virginia National Guard, and Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Jimmy Gianato stopped by the Mercer County Courthouse in Princeton Wednesday afternoon to discuss how restoration efforts were going with local emergency management officials.

Tim Farley, director of emergency services for Mercer County, said providing residents with clean water is one of the major goals the county has been working on.

“We received a tractor-trailer full of drinking water we have distributed to the local fire departments who are distributing them to people without power,” Farley said. “We still have thousands without power in Mercer County. The crews with the power company are working on broken lines, tree limbs and things like that. The public water systems are up for the most part. Most of them have back-up generators to keep the tanks full. There is a pump station in Matoaka that isn’t working. There is no water service in the Cemetery Hill area, but people living there can go to the town hall and get water there. The roads have been ravaged by trees, but the highway department crews have taken care of most of that. We do have a few single-lane roads that have seen some damage.”

Tomblin said the impact of the windstorm that hit the state is unlike any storm West Virginia has ever weathered, causing damage to 53 out of 55 counties. By the end of the day Wednesday, Tomblin said an estimated 3,000 workers would be on the ground in the state to aid in restoration efforts, putting hotel space in the area at a premium.

“We have been in contact with Bluefield State College and some of the other colleges in the area to see if they can put up some crews in their dorms,” Tomblin said. “We have never seen anything this massive. Usually, disasters are regional and we can bring in stuff from other regions of the state or from our sister states, but everyone is impacted by this.”

Tomblin said one of the major issues statewide was a lack of communication since telephone wires, Internet access and even radio capabilities were knocked out during the storm.

“I hope each county can assess themselves to see what we can do better and the state will be assessing itself to see what we can do better,” Tomblin said. “One issue we have discovered is communication with the public. Without the radio out, TV out, cell phones out and Internet out, people had no idea what was going on, what services were being offered and things like that. We need to work on communication with the public and getting messages out there between the state and localities.”

Major Gen. Hoyer said the National Guard would be working with the state to assess what needs to be improved in the event of a similar emergency.

“The communication part has been mainly relegated to boots on the ground,” Hoyer said. “When you don’t have cell phones or land lines, you have to go door-to-door to ask if people are okay, if they need supplies. We are also training guardsmen to do power studies across the state. This could very well happen again, and we need to be prepared.”

— Contact Kate Coil at

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