Manchin made stops in Logan, Mingo and Raleigh County on his tour through the snowstorm-ravaged coalfields. Thousands of residents are still without electricity nearly a week after the storm hit.
Manchin was visibly upset at the situation and noted that power was still out in many rural areas, causing a tragic disruption in people’s lives at Christmastime.
Manchin and Logan County Commission President Art Kirkendoll also discussed plans for preventative maintenance for future snowstorms.
Manchin told Kirkendoll, Logan Emergency Services Director Roger Bryant and DOH officials that if they need assistance from the West Virginia National Guard they will have it, and explained the situation the rest of the state is in.
State officials estimate that at least 10,000 people were still without power in Logan on Wednesday, 6,500 were without power in Mingo County and 5,000 were without power in Boone County, leading to the Ground Zero designation.
Statewide, 40,000 people were still without electricity, according to reports.
“I have been with AEP and they are bringing all their resources here,” Manchin said when he arrived at DOH headquarters on Route 44 yesterday. “We still have a state of emergency in 25 of our counties. Some counties are in good shape and have been taken off the list so those resources can be brought to Logan, Mingo and Boone counties and other afflicted areas. It is horrible that it’s Christmas and families can’t get together. Some people won’t have power on Christmas (Day).”
Manchin said Bryant’s first response teams and the DOH had done a commendable job during and after the storm. He said the rugged terrain in Logan County makes it tough for powerline mechanics to get into some areas to do repairs.
Bryant said AEP will have 750 workers coming to Logan and added that the county is now down to one active shelter. During the height of the storm, the county had five shelters up and running at one point.
AEP has been bringing resources in from other states and as soon as power is up and running in one sector repair crews move to the next — providing they can access those areas, Line Supervisor Jim Hines said.
Kirkendoll has been in constant contact with agencies in Charleston to get help and assistance for the county, he said, adding that special training was available for power company linemen at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College. He said training in tree trimming and other preventative measures could also be made available to prevent future problems in the winter.
“This was a heavier and bigger snow than we have had in a long time,” Gov. Manchin said.
“We were blessed that nobody lost their life in all this,” Kirkendoll said.
The commission president said that better preventative maintenance would pay for itself in the future.
“We hope to get started on this soon,” Kirkendoll said.
Hines said a lot of progress has been made in many areas and Wyoming and McDowell Counties are now in good shape, but there are still places like Harts where roads had to be cleared so crews could get in to do repair work.
Currently, he said, all power stations are serviceable, but many lines are still down and need to be reinstalled, which is dangerous work for repair crews. “We are bringing in people from Mississippi today and are asking for 50 more line crews,” Hines said, noting heavy equipment and Blackhawk helicopters had been brought in as well. At least 20 sections of powerlines were still down in the Williamson area, including one section that left the Williamson DOH headquarters without power. At least 1,900 personnel are working on the problem, Hines said.
“You can’t just snap your fingers and fix this,” Hines said, adding that Harts Creek and Hewett’s Creek were hit particularly hard. “That’s where most of our outages are.”
Gov. Manchin said one person had been injured Tuesday in Kanawha county, but emphasized no fatalities had been reported in Logan thanks to rapid response from first responders and rescue squad personnel. Manchin said he wanted residents of the coalfields to know what the state, the counties and what AEP were doing to address the problems.
“They are giving it their all to get the power back on,” Manchin said. “My heart aches for the people who are still without power this close to Christmas.”
Manchin said the state was ready to provide any help it could to Kirkendoll and Bryant.
“You are Ground Zero and you are the front line,” Manchin said. “We have to get the power up and running. When we accomplish that, we will address these other issues. The road crews, first responders and utility workers are appreciated for their commitment and dedication to getting the job done. This has hit everybody, but we will get through it. I feel sorry for people that have to do without power at Christmas. The bottom line is that people have not forgotten them and we are trying to restore power and we will do whatever is needed.”
Manchin also made trips into the Beckley area and into Mingo County to view the damage wrought by the snowstorm. He had been unable to get into the areas earlier due to heavy fog that prevented him from flying via his helicopter from place to place.