Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

July 3, 2012

Trying to get power to people

BLUEFIELD — No power. Extreme heat. And growing frustrations.

Crews with Appalachian Power are racing around the clock to restore electricity to thousands across the region. But they admit the job won’t be finished in time for the Fourth of July. Some will be spending the holiday in the dark.

 Complicating restoration efforts was another powerful storm that rolled through the region late Sunday night — packing wind gusts in excess of 60 mph — that knocked out electricity to another 30,000 customers.

“This is just unprecedented,” Jeri Matheney, a spokesperson for Appalachian Power, said of the storms. “We have never seen anything like this. Summer storms just don’t seem to be as widespread as winter storms. Summer thunderstorms are generally so localized that you may have only one town that is really damaged. But you generally aren’t going to have your whole service area. In a winter storm — take the winter storm that hit in 2009 for example — we saw it coming and we were able to move crews in advance. In this case, we didn’t have crews in place. Friday night we had to start calling other utilities and working that process and trying to get crews from other places to come in. We are making good progress. We really are. I expect thousands upon thousands of people to have their service restored by Wednesday (the Fourth of July). But at the same time we won’t be finished. We won’t be finished until the weekend.”

Matheney said the company has 2,100 additional workers on the ground charged with restoring service. The additional utility workers have come from as far away as Texas, Nebraska, Mississippi and Georgia.

But the extreme heat is slowing restoration efforts.

“Our crews have to wear rubber gloves, rubber sleeves and rubber boots,” Matheney said. “It makes it hard. There is no doubt they have to stop and take water breaks. If you see a crew sitting there drinking water, have mercy on them. They are out there for 12 hours a day. We do emphasize just constantly for them to take breaks, but they tend to not want to. Because they want to get power on for people because that is what they do. We have to really push them to take water breaks.”

As of Monday evening, 12,015 customers in Mercer County were still without electricity. In McDowell County, another 7,808 customers were still without power. Another 2,965 customers were without electricity in Tazewell County and 4,091 outages were reported in Giles County. Another 856 customers were still without power in Bland County.

Matheney said the storms that downed power lines across the region were packing hurricane-force winds.

“This storm started in Indiana and Michigan and moved eastward,” company spokesman Phil Moye said. “It was a 300-mile-wide band of storms that lasted for 10 hours traveling at 70-miles-per-hour. Most of the damage was caused by very high wind, and so the reason we have more outages in rural areas is because there is just more tree exposure and more opportunities for trees to fall on the line. There are a lot less trees for someone who lives in a city or more populated area than someone who lives out on a rural road. In those rural areas, there is just more opportunity for trees to fall and land on those lines.

“The outages are all over the place in the area,” Moye said. “Princeton, Bluefield, Glenwood, Speedway, Athens, Oakvale, Pipestem, and Jenkinjones are all areas with 100 or more outages. There is quite a mix of areas seeing power loss. The type of damage is similar from place to place. The damage is extensive and spread out pretty evenly over our service area. There isn’t one community or a group of communities hit harder than another. Everywhere was hit hard.”

— Contact Charles Owens at


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