A total of 546 homes in Tyler County remained without power Tuesday, as linemen crews worked feverishly to get power back online and first responders manned staging sites to provide relief to those who need it.
"We're doing all we can," said Tom Cooper, Director of Tyler County Office of Emergency Management yesterday. "We'll have ice, water, and meals for the community as long as we can get the supplies."
Cooper, along with volunteers, National Guardsmen, and a truck driver, Leon Wilson, from Montgomery, Ala., were at the staging site for disaster relief in the Witschey's parking lot, as a line of cars waited to get assistance.
Over 120,000 pounds of ice have been given out at the Middlebourne site or hand-deployed to area homes; over 20 thousand MREs (ready to eat meals) have been distributed (4,000 per day); and 10 truck loads of water have been distributed, at a total of 460,000 pounds.
Todd Meyers, state contact for Mon Power in West Virginia, said as of Tuesday there are 546 customers without service in the county. At last count, 145 customers in Middlebourne are without power; 75 customers in Sistersville are witout power; 70 customers in Friendly; 15 customers in Bens Run; 37 customers in Alma; with outages in other parts of the county, as well.
"The line crews are working very hard," said Meyers. "There has been unprecedented damage from this storm. We currently have 446 linemen in the county working to restore service. The usual number of linemen available for these types of jobs is 40 linemen."
"There have been so many components to this restoration," Meyers explained, "but those linemen have been working diligently to get electric service back online."
To aid in the restoration effort, over 1,500 outside linemen crews have been sent to the state, Meyers added. One third of these linemen have been dedicated to the local region.
"Customers, local government, and emergency preparedness personnel are doing a fantastic job during this crisis," said Meyers. "It's been a complicated operation, but thank God, so far our crews have not sustained a serious injury during their repair work."
"We hope to restore power to most of Tyler County today (Tuesday)," said Meyers, who commended the linemen crews for their dedication. "The oppressive heat last week made conditions very tough for everyone, and the linemen are no exception."
Meyers explained that the rural terrain and other contributing factors made the work complicated and that in one instance, a crew had to replace fifteen electric poles just to restore service to three customers. Power has currently been restored to 516,215 West Virginia customers, leaving 14,046 customers still awaiting power statewide. The total number of people without power in the wake of the storm is estimated at two-three million.
The storm, termed a derecho, is one of the most destructive in North American history. All but two of the state's 55 counties sustained some damage or loss of power and recovery in West Virginia has been more difficult than in other areas due to mountainous terrain, difficult conditions in extreme heat, and the need for crews to cover large areas.
Meyers urged anyone who is without service and has not reported it to do so by calling 1-888-544-4877, noting that calling this number would pinpoint the location of the service call via the company's software program.
Cooper says the staging area at Witschey's is open "from early morning to late in the evening".
"We are meeting the community's needs, one way or another," he said. "Right after the disaster struck, a Triad-Hunter representative called from Texas asking what Tyler County needed in the way of help, and sent a tractor trailer load of ice from Kentucky to us. I believe it was the first load of ice in the area to arrive."
Antero Resources also sent help, providing relief workers with a truckload of bottled water for distribution.
"People in the county need to know that these companies responded without hesitation to pitch in and help out," said Cooper.
Leon Wilson, a truck driver from Montgomery, Ala., was delivering goods to Witschey's when the storm damage occurred. His refrigerated rig has been parked at the staging site since that day, keeping the ice from melting.
Wilson, who has been on the site of other disaster relief sites, volunteered to stay as a FEMA authorized provider. Wilson was on site at relief sites during the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and has firsthand experience dealing with such situations.
Wilson has been staying on site with his rig, and taking showers at County Commissioner Charles "Pork" Smith's home.
"I'm glad to help," said Wilson. "I've met some really pleasant people here."
Over 120,000 pounds of ice have been given out at the site or hand-delpoyed to area homes; over 20 thousand MREs (ready to eat meals) have been distributed (4,000 per day); and 10 truck loads of water have been distributed, at a total of 460,000 pounds.
"Anyone who needs water, ice, or food can come to the site at Witschey's and we will help them," said Cooper, who was fielding phone calls from residents as cars lined up to receive supplies.
"The Sistersville Volunteer Fire Department has been doing a fantastic job," he added. "They have had their emergency shelter up and running non-stop since the outage began. A shelter in Alma has also been put into service as needed."
Cooper noted that infant supplies were available at the SVFD. "We received a shipment of infant supplies - baby food, blankets, and other items are available at their site," Cooper said.
Local volunteer fire departments, law enforcement, and first responders have been working hand in hand during the emergency, Cooper noted. "At this time, the governor has not issued a declaration for individual assistance to those affected in our county, but it needs to be done. People need our governor to come to the aid of those who have lost so much in this disaster."
"Our community has been served well by our local agencies," added Cooper. "We will continue to be here as long as we can."
Members of the National Guard have been assisting in the relief effort as well. The 1092nd Engineering Battalion and the 119th SAPPER Co. out of Parkersburg have been distributing supplies in rural areas as well as the staging site.
Local volunteers are also manning the staging site. More volunteers may be needed, if the situation continues, added Cooper.
According to the WV Department of Health and Human Resources, anyone who receives SNAP benefits and lost food items due to the outage may make an application for replacement benefits through July 30. Those interested in applying should contact the Tyler County DHHR office at 304-758-2127.
For more information about the staging site and available resources, contact Tom Cooper at 304-771-3674 (mobile) or 304-758-5155 (office).
Due to scarce water supplies and the ongoing emergency response efforts related to the recent storms, Governor Tomblin has issued a statewide burning ban, effective immediately and continuing throughout the state of emergency.