Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and First Lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin continued traveling throughout the state today meeting with storm victims and local leaders regarding recovery efforts. Gov. Tomblin saw the latest storm recovery progress firsthand in Wetzel, Marion, Gilmer, Nicholas and Kanawha Counties while First Lady Tomblin traveled to Braxton and Fayette Counties.
“We are seeing progress throughout West Virginia, but there is more work to be done as new storms present new challenges,” said Gov. Tomblin. “Today’s lightning strike at Kanawha County’s Emergency Operations Center damaged the facility but not the functionality of the 911 system.”
“It never ceases to amaze me; the resilience of West Virginians,” said First Lady Tomblin. “This week I have seen firsthand how groups and organizations come together, not only to help each other but to help their communities as a whole under the most difficult of circumstances.”
Truckloads of ice and water continue to be distributed throughout the state. 600 National Guard soldiers performed health and wellness assessments, and delivered food, ice and water. 25 FEMA workers assisted individuals in communities across the state. Power crews restored electricity to more homes and businesses, decreasing the number of outages in the state. As of press time, there were still 5,915 without power in Logan County.
The same heavily forested mountains and steep, hilly terrain that give West Virginia its natural beauty are slowing thousands of workers trying to restore electricity to more than 229,000 customers who remained in the dark six days after a violent storm tore across the state.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, that’s what makes West Virginia ‘almost heaven,’” Mon Power spokesman Todd Meyer said Thursday. “When you have a storm like this, that’s what makes it hell to restore the power. The great things run against us.”
At the same time, the state has been in a dynamic weather system, with almost daily thunderstorms that knock out customers in areas that were either already restored or that didn’t lose power after the first violent storm. The Charleston Gazette reported that about 20,000 lost power in midday storms Thursday.
As of late Thursday, about 152,300 Appalachian Power customers and 77,300 FirstEnergy customers were still without electricity.
The severe storm that tore across the state June 29 caused extensive damage to power lines and equipment. Huge metal transmission towers were crumpled, and dozens of twisting, narrow secondary roads were closed in places where travel can be slow going on a good day.
“It’s not a ‘go fix one thing and get 30,000 customers on at a time,’” Meyer said. “There’s a lot of work in different areas.
“I know of at least 477 broken poles,” he said, “and that’s pretty much unprecedented, to have that many poles in that many places. And some of the poles date back to the time that they were set by mules.”
Crews are navigating extremely difficult terrain to reach them.
“It’s more simple in the urban areas, where you have streets and sidewalks and pretty decent access to distribution lines,” Meyer said. “Where there’s crazy terrain, it’s going to take some time.”
With land lines out and many cell phones out of power, the only way to reach residents of rural outlying areas is to go door to door, Adj. Gen. James Hoyer said. Often, neighbors are taking care of each other. In one community, homes on one side of the street got their power back, so they ran extension cords across the road to their neighbors, he said.
Hoyer, who has been in the Guard for 31 years, said West Virginia has never had a statewide disaster of this magnitude. The storm affected 53 of the state’s 55 counties. Some counties were almost 100 percent without power.
Hoyer said he was irritated when he heard television news readers comparing the storm to the response failures after Hurricane Katrina.
“This is absolutely nothing like it. We’re on top of this,” he said. “Do we have places where people need support that we still haven’t gotten to? I’m absolutely sure that’s the case. But to stabilize the situation when 678,000 households were initially without power, I think is significant. .. I’m pretty proud of the state of West Virginia and the way we’re handling this.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.