Extensive damage was reported throughout the area Saturday, after a severe summer storm ripped through Taylor County Friday evening. A cooling station has been opened at the Blueville Church of the Nazarene, and officials are urging residents to stay out of the heat and take shelter.
GRAFTON – Early Saturday morning, West Virginia Governor, Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency for the entire state. Later on, on Saturday, President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in West Virginia, as well, to open up the door for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to start relief efforts.
The declarations became necessary after violent storms ripped through the Eastern United States Friday evening.
Tomblin said 53 of the state’s 55 counties had outages, the most extensive in recent history.
“Those winds were so strong and over such a wide area,” the governor said Saturday afternoon at a news conference in Charleston. “It’s going to take several days to get power back on.”
The Grafton Fire Department reported that they were still responding to calls as of Sunday afternoon. In all, the department had responded to over 60 calls since the storms hit on Friday evening. Most of the calls were related to trees and power lines down from the reported 70 MPH winds that roared through the area during the storm’s peak.
According to Taylor County’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Director, Mark Knotts, as of Sunday afternoon, 37% of Taylor county residents were still without power. Knotts indicated that there has been no reported injuries due to the storm, but a conserve water advisory was issued on Saturday. The advisory had been lifted by Sunday afternoon, and a cooling station was opened at Anna Jarvis Elementary for residents, who were seeking relief from the high temperatures.
According to the FirstEnergy website, (FirstEnergy is the parent company of Mon Power, Potomac Edison, West Penn Power and Ohio Edison) crews are responding to a severe summer storm, with a reported 560,000 customers who have lost power. While the company is working to restore power to customers as soon as possible, preliminary estimated restoration times indicate that it could be a week before the hardest-hit areas – particularly parts of West Virginia – are fully restored.
In the hardest-hit areas of West Virginia, the storm damaged more than 50 transmission lines and 70 substations. The damage assessment process is ongoing, with helicopters being used to patrol downed transmission lines. All available FirstEnergy crews are working to restore service and will continue around the clock in 16-hour shifts until the process is completed.
In addition, the company is mobilizing crews and support personnel from its utilities in Ohio and Pennsylvania to assist in the hardest hit areas and is securing electrical contractors and tree contractors to assist with the restoration process. FirstEnergy also is working to secure additional utility crews from various mutual assistance organizations.
According to Knotts, the cooling station at Anna Jarvis Elementary was moved on Sunday afternoon, and reopened at the Blueville Church of the Nazarene at 5 p.m. This cooling station will also serve as a regular shelter until power is restored. Knotts indicated that anyone with questions, or specific needs, can call him at 304-612-5352.
“We’re just asking that people be patient with the power company,” Knotts stated. “They are working as hard as they can, and they have even brought crews in from out of state.”
According to the Associated Press, violent storms have left more than three million people without power across the eastern U.S. on a day when temperatures could top 100 degrees in some places.
Authorities have confirmed at least 13 deaths related to the storms that swept across the eastern U.S. Deaths have been reported in Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, Kentucky and Ohio.
About 368,000 were without power in Baltimore County in Maryland; 783,000 in Virginia, including the suburbs outside Washington; 379,000 in Washington, D.C.; 950,000 in Ohio; 577,000 in West Virginia; and 151,000 in New Jersey.
With temperatures in the 90s, and no immediate relief in sight, officials are urging West Virginia residents to stay as cool as they can.
“Last night’s storms caused severe damage and left hundreds of thousands of West Virginians without electricity in this extreme heat,” United States Senator Joe Manchin, III stated Saturday. “I urge all West Virginians to be very careful, stay hydrated, and check on your neighbors – especially the elderly. I know the state will do all it can to care for those in need, and I will do everything in my power to make sure West Virginia gets any needed federal assistance very quickly.”
Gas stations and stores have felt the wrath of the storm, as many gas stations ran out of gas on Saturday. With a large part of the state without power, residents were traveling for miles in search of an open gas station, that actually had gas available. Long lines at the pumps, and empty store shelves greeted these travelers at most places.
“There is nothing open down there,” stated an Elkins resident, as he filled multiple gas cans in the back of his truck to take back for his neighbors on Saturday. This was a common refrain from multiple state residents as they traveled for hours to find gas after Friday evening’s storms.
Forecasters were calling for another possible round of storms on Sunday afternoon, and the temperature will again reach up in the 90s today.