West Virginia struggles to recover from Sandy
By MOLLY BORN Pittsburgh Post-Gazette November 9, 2012 11:02AM
Updated: November 9, 2012 11:25PM
The lights are back on in Lower Manhattan, but several West Virginia counties remain in the dark more than a week after Superstorm Sandy dumped up to 3 feet of snow in the state’s higher elevations.
Officials also say it could take at least six months to clear fallen trees in some areas.
While the worst is over, about 12,000 customers remained without power late Thursday and some back roads were still inaccessible, even as work and school resumed for many.
Power was to have been restored by 95 percent of customers by midnight Thursday, a spokeswoman for FirstEnergy said.
Some residents believe the state has attracted less attention than other hard-hit areas because people might not realize loads of heavy snow has snapped tree branches and grounded scores of phone and power lines, said Cindy Chmel, a Red Cross volunteer working at a Preston County shelter.
“It’s not a massive flood like everyone associates a massive disaster with,” the Claysville resident said. “More than one person has come up to me and said, ‘It’s just like they’ve forgotten about us.’ “
Don Stump, a displaced resident of Terra Alta, W.Va., said this storm was the worst he’s seen in a county where winter snowstorms are frequent and unkind. He doesn’t feel abandoned, though, thanks to volunteer support at the Preston County shelter where he’s been living for a week, he said.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin requested a major federal disaster declaration last week, seeking help for areas crippled by the storm and its aftermath.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano joined the governor for a storm damage assessment briefing last weekend in the capital, Charleston.
Schools remained closed in Preston County, where about a quarter of customers lacked power late in the week. Crews were coordinating with the school board and transportation department to clear roads of debris in hopes of opening schools next week, said Duane Hamilton, county emergency management director.
“In some areas of the county, it just looks like a war zone,” he said.
Barbour County, where a state House of Delegates candidate was killed last week when a tree limb collapsed on him, was still dealing with downed trees from a June windstorm.
Interim deputy emergency services director Jim Ancell said it could take at least six months to clear the fallen trees from this storm. “We’re all tired. We are recovering,” he said. “It’s just been devastating to the entire community.”
Schools reopened Thursday in Webster County, where a 71-year-old woman died last week after falling under deep snow while attempting to feed her dogs.
Lorene Carpenter, secretary and accountant at Webster County High School, said 76 students were absent that day because of power outages. At her home, not far from the school, Carpenter still has no power but manages with a cook stove and gas heat. Some back roads still haven’t been cleared, but her own were tended to by locals with tractors.
“I think that we here in West Virginia, we are determined to survive,” she said. “Neighbors take care of neighbors here.”
Six people have been confirmed dead in Sandy-related deaths in West Virginia.