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POWERLESS
Winds cut electricity to estimated 25,000 residents
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A tree fell dead-center on a house in the 1200 block of Mulberry Road in Martinsville during Friday night's straight-line winds. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
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Sunday, July 1, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS AND GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writers

A violent straight-line wind storm Friday night left as many as 25,000 customers without power that night and Saturday.

And for some of them, it may be several days before service is restored.

Tim Hall, deputy Henry County administrator, said at the peak of the outage, all of the city of Martinsville and about 10,000 customers (homes, businesses, etc.) in Henry County were without electricity.

Interim City Manager Leon Towarnicki said this was the first time he can remember the entire city was without power. That occurred when the electrical feed between Appalachian Power and the city was lost, he said.

About 9 p.m. or so Saturday, about 24 hours after the storm hit, Towarnicki estimated that only about 100 customers in the city still were in the dark.

Jeri Matheney, communication director for Appalachian Power, said about 9:30 p.m. Saturday that about 6,900 customers still were without power in Henry County and about 3,800 customers were without power in Patrick County. That was down from a peak of 5,000 customers in Patrick County.

It may be Thursday before power is completely restored for customers in Henry County and Friday before power is completely restored for customers in Patrick County, she said. But power will be restored for many of the customers before that in both counties, she said.

A “cooling center” was set up at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School to help area residents who lacked electricity or air conditioning cope with temperatures that were forecast to top 100. The center was closed late Saturday afternoon. (See related story.)

Mike Sporer, meteorological intern with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, said the storm was part of a thunderstorm complex that stretched over about 11 states, including northern Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Delaware, Maryland and southern New Jersey.

In a storm complex, a lot of individual cells or storms come together, he explained, and “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It can travel further, last longer” and produce more damage, he said.

He said the storm covered much of Virginia, with straight-line wind speeds of 60-80 mph or more. For instances, winds were about 80 mph in Roanoke and 76 mph in Floyd County, he said.

With many trees down and power knocked out, the high temperature is not helping, he said. The temperature reached 102 in Danville and 101 in Roanoke Saturday, he said. A Henry County-Martinsville news release said the temperature might reach 100 degrees Saturday.

Sporer said temperatures are forecast in the 90s through Wednesday.

Matheny said about 60 percent of Appalachian’s service area was without power at the peak, and as of about 9:30 p.m. Saturday, more than half of Appalachian’s service area was without power.

At the peak, about 566,000 Appalachian customers in Virginia and West Virginia were without power. That had been reduced to about 536,000 customers as of about 9:30 p.m., Matheny said. The 536,000 customers without power included 218,000 in Virginia and 318,0000 in West Virginia, she said.

The winds caused trees to fall throughout the city and county, onto homes, across streets and elsewhere.

One of the most dramatic was in the 1200 block of Mulberry Road in Martinsville. A huge tree in the front yard fell dead-center onto the house Friday night.

The resident, who asked not to be identified, said no one was hurt in the incident.

Saturday morning, Kenneth Eggleston stood outside his home on Banner Street in Martinsville and showed how a huge tree fell across his driveway and the front of his house, catching the roof and eaves.

The tree fell around 10 p.m. Friday in the middle of the wind storm. Eggleston was at a friend’s house at the time but his wife, Maxine, was home.

“She didn’t know what had happened,” Eggleston said, adding he arrived about three minutes later.

She wasn’t the only one taken aback.

“It scared my dog to death,” Eggleston said, referring to his chihuahua, P.T., who also was inside the house at the time.

There was no damage inside so the couple can live in the house, Eggleston said. The car was not struck by the tree.

Their home is insured, but Eggleston said without electricity, he could not call an adjuster to view the damage.

The Egglestons have lived in their home for 20 to 25 years, he said, but nothing like this has ever happened before.

A large also fell across Grayson Street in Martinsville, among others.

Some area hotels offered refuge for those suffering from the heat. The Quality Inn/Dutch Inn in Collinsville was full both Friday and Saturday nights due to area residents without electricity at their homes, said Lisa Pickett, front desk manager.

When registrations were taken at 3 p.m. Saturday, she said about 40 people checked in and 95 percent of them were there because of the power failure.

“I live in the city” and her neighbors were among those checking in Pickett said.

They were people of all ages, she said, including singles, a man with his dog and families.

“They’re here because they have no power, it’s hot and we have a dining room” and a pool, Pickett said.

Matheney said at one point said 50 substations in Virginia and West Virginia were out of service.

Ryan Shepherd, a spokesman for Memorial Hospital in Martinsville, said late Saturday afternoon the hospital had been operating on two generators, but that was not pushing enough air so a third air generator was being installed. He said the hospital stopped taking new patients, except for in the emergency department.

Towarnicki estimated power was restored to the hospital about 5:30 or 6 p.m.

He said power was restored in parts of the city about 12:45 a.m. for about 45 minutes but then went off again. He said the hospital was given a priority when power was restored.

Shepherd also gave some advice to the public on coping with power failures: If your power is out on very hot days, drink plenty of fluids, stay as cool as possible and try to stay with friends or family members who have power. He urged people who continue to have power to reach out to assist family and friends who do not have power. He also urges people to check on the elderly.

Matheney also had some tips, including checking on and watching out for neighbors, friends and neighbors, and making a plan if your home is going to be without power for several days.

Hall, who was handling public information for the county and city, said “my hat is off” to city and Appalachian work crews for restoring power and preventing an “epoch” event.

Hall said he talked with a county public safety official and there was some damage to structures, but he was not sure of the severity, and indications were that they were not overly severe.

A news release Saturday night said an information line set up Saturday was scheduled to be discontinued. Emergency calls should go to 911.

Citizens are urged to do whatever they can to stay cool today and during the next few days by taking advantage of open commercial and retail stores that have air conditioning, the release said.

 

 
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