RICHMOND — Gov. Bob McDonnell urged patience Sunday as utility crews worked to restore power to more than 730,000 electric customers following back-to-back storms and amid a sweltering stretch of weather that is expected to last through the week.
Virginia State Police increased the number of deaths related to the storm to seven, adding a traffic death that occurred Friday night in Montgomery County. Twelve injuries have been linked to the storm, including a volunteer firefighter in Franklin County who suffered life-threatening injuries.
In a conference call, McDonnell said the forecast includes the threat of powerful thunderstorms through the week, which could set back power-restoration efforts into next weekend.
“This is going to be a multi-day recovery effort with very dangerous high heat levels over 100 to 105 for a very significant period of time,” he said during a conference call. “I guess the most critical need is calm and patience.”
McDonnell declared a state of emergency Saturday, activating 200 National Guard troops to help the state recover from straight-line winds of up to 80 miles an hour that felled trees and power lines and closed hundreds of roads.
The fear of additional storms was heightened late Saturday when a possible tornado blew from Charlottesville east to Hampton Roads, knocking out power to 50,000. The National Weather Service was sending out a team to investigate if the storm was in fact a tornado.
Linda Cleveland felt the power of both storms. She returned to her suburban Richmond home Sunday morning with her West Highland terrier Annie on a leash. She had left her home after the first storm Friday night for her camper southeast of Richmond in New Kent County — where the second storm swept through on Saturday night.
As winds, hail and rain pelted the campground, she left her camper to seek shelter at the campground bar. “Then the bar started flooding,” she said.
The bar patrons went to a bathhouse for the night.
“There were probably 30 people in the bathhouse,” Cleveland, 65, said. “Annie spent the night in a sink at the ladies room.”
Virginia Dominion Power said the storm was the third largest restoration effort in its history.
Statewide, more than 1 million customers were without power, primarily in the Northern Virginia and greater Richmond area.
Dominion’s Rodney Blevins said the utility had restored power to a half-million customers, but nearly 400,000 remained without power Sunday afternoon. He said 90 to 95 percent of customers would have their power restored by Thursday, with the remaining customers getting power back by the weekend.
Appalachian Power Co. reported nearly 200,000 without power, primarily in western Virginia, including Henry County. The other outages involved electric cooperatives.
McDonnell said out-of-state crews that typically are called in to assist during big weather events had to remain home to tend their own storm-related power outages.
“Be good neighbors,” he said. “We need everybody to pitch in, especially for the elderly and very young people.”
In the blue collar Richmond suburb of Lakeside, the challenges posed by the storm and how people were reacting to it were on full display Sunday morning as the temperatures already began climbing into the 90s.
A giant pin oak had pancaked a car along one street, knocking down power lines and electric service since Friday. Nearly a dozen utility trucks clogged the street as Dominion crews used chain saws to knock the tree down.
Power was returning for some residents as others still waited for their power to come back on and restart air conditioners to small ranch houses along the narrow street.
Elizabeth Knight, 51, strolled down the street with three young girls in bathing suits to watch utility crews. “Hot, hot, hot,” she said.
John Christianson, 28, joined the small gathering. He too had been without power since Friday.
“It’s hard, it’s hard,” he said. “The food’s gone bad. The stores around here have lost their power. No way to charge your cell phone.”
Knight and Christianson said the neighborhood weathered the weekend by sticking together, as McDonnell had suggested.
“Good neighbors,” said Knight. “Food, ice — we’re all sharing.”
Half a block away, Mike and Sandy Wood spent the night in a hotel and returned Sunday to discover the power back on. They had a generator but it wasn’t up to the task.
“It was stifling,” Mike Wood said. “It was too hot to stay in the house so we went out and got a hotel.”
“Fortunately, we don’t have kids and dogs or pets and that kind of stuff,” Sandy Wood said.
John Swift, another Lakeside resident, said he was getting by just fine. He had stayed through the weekend, although he was still without power.
“I’m OK. I’ve got a camp stove. I’ve got cold showers. I don’t watch TV. It’s not a big deal,” Swift, 60, said.
He’s charging his cell phone in his car.
“It’s hot. That’s the biggest nuisance, the biggest concern.”