By C.V. Moore
OAK HILL —
A hospice patient in the Cunard area who died on Wednesday after being cut off from emergency services personnel due to a blocked road is the only death so far in Fayette County attributed to Superstorm Sandy.
As both Fayette and Nicholas counties continued late last week to deal with snowed-in roads and significant power outages, residents were urged to check on their neighbors.
“What we’re asking is if you have a neighbor, go check on them,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. “We’re West Virginians. That’s what we do best.”
Manchin, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Rep. Nick Rahall visited the Fayette County Office of Emergency Services on Wednesday evening to get an in-person debriefing on the situation in the county.
Tomblin spent much of Wednesday in conference with some of the counties hardest hit by superstorm Sandy, including Nicholas, where the roofs of at least eight buildings collapsed under heavy, wet snow. These include the Foodland and U-Save in Craigsville and an apartment complex in Summersville.
“The biggest thing has been the weight of the snow on structures,” said Tomblin. “We’re requesting that school systems re-check their roofs in case we were to have another storm like this.”
Summersville Mayor Robert Shafer urged residents to pay attention to their structures and roofs and make sure to get them checked out if they have any concerns.
“It’s something like we really haven’t seen before. I call it the 3-way punch,” says Rahall of the triple threat of rain, snow, and winds that ravaged the two counties last week, beginning Monday night.
“But we are West Virginians. We are resilient,” he says. “I think we have been prepared, as good as can be expected.”
Tomblin believed the state most likely would escape flooding over the weekend, depending on how warm it got and how fast. Meteorologists predicted temperatures will rise slowly.
Fayette County Emergency Services Director Theresa White says between 2 and 6 inches of moisture fell across the region. Flooding is a risk where 3.5 inches or more have fallen.
“There’s a high water content in the snow out there,” White said Thursday. “We are asking people to monitor their creeks and streams. They normally know when they are rising to a dangerous level. If they feel like it’s a situation we need to be aware of, give us a call.”
Power and water service were restored to Richwood Thursday, where between 30 and 35 people spent Wednesday night at the Richwood Food and Clothing Pantry under the watch of John and Virginia Reed.
After church services, a Bible study and prayer, the couple sent their storm refugees to bed with hot biscuits and jelly. Area residents cooked homemade chili and roast chicken for dinner.
“I’m relieved the power is back on,” said Virginia. “I’ve had three hours of sleep since the storm.”
Only one resident remained at the shelter Thursday because she couldn’t access her home.
“We will remain open as long as there is a need in the community,” Virginia pledged.
A helicopter assessed damage at Appalachian Power’s Fayetteville substation on Wednesday. Both transmission lines coming into the station were damaged, one extensively; however, a large portion of Fayetteville had its power restored Thursday afternoon. Thirty percent of Fayette customers were without power on Thursday afternoon.
“I think most large outages will be cleared up (by today) and you’ll start to see those come back on,” Phil Moye of Appalachian Power said on Thursday. “On Friday we will work on the smaller outages.”
Those whose outages are due to smaller distribution lines may have been forced to wait until Friday night or perhaps later.
The Fayetteville station serves residents in Fayetteville, Beckwith, Garten and areas toward Oak Hill.
The Danese area is served out of a station called Bracken’s Creek, where there are several problems in the Mount Nebo and Danese circuits. It was anticipated most customers should see power restored by Friday night.
John Miller, president of the Nicholas County Commission, says the Craigsville area should have power by Sunday night.
“The problem is access because a lot of these roads here are still impassable,” he says.
“It’s one of the biggest ones I remember,” he says of the storm. “And I’m 63 and have lived my entire life on this farm.”
On his farm near Calvin, getting to livestock for feeding has been a challenge. But Miller dug himself and some neighbors out with a tractor on Wednesday.
Division of Forestry crews, the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department and Mennonite Disaster Workers assisted the Division of Highways workers on Thursday, clearing trees from back roads in Fayette County, including Saturday Road, Sunday Road, Rich Creek, and Egypt Road.
“They are trying to get into these back roads where we haven’t been able to get to people and assess their damages yet,” says White.
White requested additional clearing crews from the governor on Wednesday, noting that the sheriff's department had been taxed to its full capacity.
“Along with their normal jobs, they had gone into disaster mode and had gone way beyond the call of duty to become tree-cutters,” she says.
Early voting resumed Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and also was held Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to Fayette County Clerk Kelvin Holliday
“Now is the time for people to really try to help and check on their neighbors,” says White. “If you can’t get them on the phone, you may want to pay them a visit so we don’t have anybody out there that has a need that we don’t know about.”