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Many lose power as winter storms sweep through county

By Staff | Mar 11, 2015

As heavy rains plummeted the area March 4, creeks and small streams began to rise. By mid-afternoon water was over the roads in many places and low lying areas were filling up. People were reporting water in their basements and in and around their homes.

The National Weather Service reported nearly two inches of rain had fallen and even the main roads were closed in some areas from high water run off. Around 7 p.m. heavy snow begin to fall as the temperature quickly began to drop. By early Thursday morning several inches of wet and heavy snow had fallen and many areas were reporting power outages.

Tyler County Office of Emergency Management Director Tom Cooper recounted, “We received a call from dispatch that firemen were suggesting a shelter may be needed.” At around 4:30 a.m. Thursday the OEM opened the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in the Middlebourne Senior Center. Cooper called on volunteers to come in and help man the the warming station and to prepare a 24-hour shelter if needed.

One local gentleman who was traveling home from work and could not get up his road because of high water and debris was brought to the shelter by a local fireman.

The Office of Emergency Management operates all Tyler County shelters with the help of volunteers. The county’s equipment is funded through the Department of Homeland Security and the county has enough equipment to house 72 people and their pets, if needed.

County Commissioner Charles Smith checked in with the EOC on Thursday morning to advise them he would be available if needed. The initial reports indicated 2,202 customers of First Energy were without power in Tyler County. Those numbers continued to increase slightly.

It was reported that 11 to 16 inches of snow had fallen across the county from the storm, on top of already rain saturated soil. Many people could not get out because of the heavy snow, flooding, and downed trees and power lines. To make matters worse, the temperatures had fallen well below freezing and was predicted to stay there for the next few days.

At one point a deputy brought in an elderly person who needed warming. The senior center and local volunteers had prepared hot soup, sandwiches, and warm beverages for those who might come in.

Only two people took advantage of the shelter, but Cooper said the sad fact is that many more could have but without electricity they could not receive notification that the station was open.

The OEM loaned out a total of five generators and some were running from Thursday through Monday. Five bottles of propane were also loaned to citizens in emergency situations. Fifteen OEM volunteers helped directly with the shelter and many others checked in and offered to help.

Cooper expressed his appreciation to all of the volunteer, area fire departments, and emergency personnel for their dedication during this winter storm event. They were dealing with everything from clearing trees from roadways to rescuing trapped people, and responding to vehicle accidents.

Of course electric crews were also very busy during the winter weather event. Todd Meyers of First Energy states that when he arrived at work at 5:30 a.m., overall in the Mon Power service area there were approximately 23,000 customers without power.

“That number is closer to 44,000 now,” he noted Thursday evening. “As the snow continued to pile up, outages went up as well. It’s all related to snow… What you have is snow weighing down trees.

The whole tree falls or the limbs fall and come in contact with lines.”

“What people need to be ready for, is this is going to be a lengthy outage,” Meyers noted Thursday. “There are many customers who may not have power on by late Saturday night.” Meyers added, “We know with the amount of damage and difficulty navigating the roads, a lot of the big roads are hard to drive on, and some of the secondary roads haven’t even been plowed yet. I’m not casting stones on anyone. It’s a very hard job and a very tough situation out there. Even getting back there to assess some of the damage and getting there to fix it, is very difficult.”

First Energy is the owner of Mon Power and has 10 other utility companies. Hundreds of lineman from Ohio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania were sent to the area to help restore the power. Additional people working for First Energy were also sent in to help with clearing the trees. By 4 p.m. Monday First Energy’s website showed 559 customers still without power.

Meyers encourages those who are going to “hang in your house” to take some precautions. “Go into an interior room, wear extra clothes, and use a sleeping bag. Use a fireplace safely. For illumination, use flashlights and battery operated lanterns, but nothing that is a propane lantern. Do not use anything that you use for camping. Don’t bring in camp stoves. Don’t bring in charcoal grills. Those can create deadly amounts of carbon monoxide.”

Meyers also encourages generator-users to think of the lineman when hooking up their generator. “What we can’t control is if someone has a generator and it’s not hooked up correctly, and it’s putting electricity back on the lines.”

Furthermore, “Stay away from downed lines. A storm like this has a lot of downed wires.

Assume they are energized. We will get out there and make sure they are de-energized and safe.” Meyers states that to report downed lines call 1-888-544-4877.