By Vicki Smith
As water trucks, generators and other forms of help rolled into heavily populated areas hit hard by the weekend storm, many West Virginians living in rural areas awaited help Monday in conditions that grew increasingly desperate.
A heat advisory was in effect from noon to 7 p.m. for most of central and western West Virginia and the southern coalfields.
Only one death in West Virginia has been linked to either the storm or the heat so far, said Terrance Lively, a spokesman for the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. A person riding an all-terrain vehicle in the dark in Pleasants County struck a fallen tree about 1 a.m. Sunday.
State Police identified the victim as Edward F. Riffle Jr.
Nearly 418,000 customers were still without power, including 85 percent of Lewis County, where emergency management spokesman James Gum said there was no help yet from either the National Guard or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Lt. Col. David Lester said the West Virginia Army National Guard hadn’t received a request for help earlier, but it was sending people to Lewis County on Monday afternoon. The guard is especially concerned about rural, isolated places where residents don’t have a local radio or TV station.
“In Greenbrier County, they have no radio station. They have no TV station. They have no communications because without power, they don’t have phones,” Lester said.
While the guard’s initial efforts focused on restoring power to medical facilities and nursing homes, Lester said the 230 soldiers in the field are now working to supply food and water, and checking on the welfare of residents.
Gum said anyone on the public water system in Lewis County had service, but many residents in outlying areas rely on wells and cisterns that won’t be functioning.
Although power was restored along U.S. 33 and in the county seat of Weston early Monday, the stores that were starting to open were throwing out spoiled food. So were residents in rural areas.
“They’re going to be running out of food today because they’ve already cooked up what they had,” Gum said. “You’re looking at 60 hours into this, and no freezer is going to hold that long.”
In Braxton County, emergency services director Fred Thompson said the National Guard had arrived and started wellness checks. About half the county was still without power, but the utilities had sent in nearly two dozen trucks, and the water and sewage treatment plants were working on generators.
Utility crews were working across the state to restore service to nearly 418,000 customers, but many areas may not get power until later this week.
American Electric Power had about 240,400 customers without power Monday evening, while Mon Power’s outage map showed more than 177,250 remained out of service.
Mon Power, a FirstEnergy subsidiary, said it had more than 1,000 contractors and crews on the job from Michigan, Florida, New York and Kentucky. The company said it had lost more than 50 transmission lines and 70 substations to the storm.
Potomac Edison said it expects all affected customers to have power later this week.
AEP said service won’t be restored to some customers until late Sunday. Among those still in the dark were about 64,252 households in Kanawha County — the state’s largest. The Friday night storms damaged more than 50 AEP substations and downed numerous power lines and trees.
Paul Bump, head of the Harrison County Bureau of Emergency Services, said water plants were back in operation Monday and gas stations were coming back on line. Still, police remained watchful.
“We had fisticuffs at gas lines on Saturday,” Bump said. “It was a panic thing. ... That’s been the one disappointing thing in all this.”
Police are no longer posted across the street from gas stations, he said, “but they’re aware of it and monitoring it.”
President Barack Obama has issued a disaster declaration for West Virginia.
A state of emergency declared by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin remains in effect.
Lively said FEMA and National Guard crews were fanning out across the state to deliver water to communities and generators to critical facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes and water and sewage-treatment plants.
About 50 cooling stations and 20 shelters were open across the state to give those still without power some relief, and guard members were helping local law enforcement with welfare checks on the elderly.
“They are the most vulnerable,” he said.
The state Department of Transportation said more than 70 secondary roads remained closed because of fallen trees or power lines but most major highways were open.
The West Virginia Courtesy Patrol extended its schedule to 21 hours a day to help motorists traveling interstates and the state’s corridor highways with fuel or other needs. The patrols will be on duty from noon until 9 a.m. the following day for the duration of the state of emergency.