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Power may be out for week

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending truckloads of water and generators to help West Virginians reeling in the aftermath of Friday night's storm, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Saturday.

As Tomblin addressed the crisis during an afternoon news conference at Yeager Airport, people in Kanawha and Putnam counties searched for gas, ice and relief from heat and worked to clean up their homes.

Tomblin said the state is "on top of it."

Fifty-three of West Virginia's 55 counties experienced power loss, Tomblin said, and the outage is one of the biggest in recent history.

On Saturday, Appalachian Power estimated that it could take crews until late Friday to fully restore power to Kanawha, Putnam, Cabell, McDowell, Mercer, Summers and Wayne counties, with the earliest restoration being Lincoln County, on Tuesday.

Wayne County can anticipate power by Wednesday night. Fayette, Jackson, Logan, Mason, Mingo, Raleigh and Wyoming counties should have power by Thursday night.

Finally, on Saturday Boone and Clay counties, as well as some remote portions of Kanawha County should have power.

Tomblin said the main priority is making sure those in hospitals and nursing homes are taken care of while power is out to a large portion of the state.

He also acknowledged that the lack of power has made resources such as gasoline sparse.

Along MacCorkle Avenue in Kanawha City, pumps at 7-Eleven were bagged, driving people in need of fuel to nearby ExxonMobil and Go-Mart stations.

At the Exxon gas station, cars piled up on 50th Street, with a line of about seven vehicles to each pump.

Bryan and Linda Richmond of Charleston had been waiting for 20 minutes, and they'd barely moved their car into the gas station lot. The two were just arriving back in West Virginia from vacation in Hilton Head, S.C., but they couldn't make it home because a tree was blocking their way.

Sissonville resident Peggy Morrison waited nearly an hour to get gasoline.

She said she needed to drive her mother to Beckley, and there was no gas available where she lived.

As Morrison restarted her gold Kia Sorento and slowly pulled the car forward one spot, she said she'd seen a lot of people filling up gas cans.

That's why Tim and Andrea Huffman were at the Exxon pump -- they needed gas for their generator, although Tim said the Chevy he was driving was running pretty low, too.

The Huffmans, who were on their way back to Elkview, had been waiting at the gas station for 25 minutes.

"It's the closest one we found," Tim said.

Panic about possible gas shortages led to real shortages in some places. The city of Dunbar said there was no more gasoline at any stations. Stations on Charleston's West Side and East End also were reporting there was no more gasoline.

Shortages extended beyond the pumps, too. Signs plastered on the Exxon doors read "NO ICE," and Steven Bolick of Kanawha City said he couldn't find ice anywhere Saturday afternoon. His girlfriend was bringing some home from her job at the hospital, and he said he hoped he'd get food cold before it spoiled.

On Saturday, Bolick was clearing tree branches from his girlfriend's grandmother's yard, using a bright orange handsaw to cut up pieces before dragging them across Kanawha Avenue toward the river. He was waiting on a chain saw, which was supposed to arrive later in the day.

He said he stood outside during Friday's storm because he thought it was safer, and he watched the trees bend over his home on Chesterfield Avenue.

"It was bad," he said. "I thought my house was going to get crushed."

Up the street, Marion Aburahma ducked under a downed utility line as she hauled debris in her yard.

She said she didn't know if the line was dangerous because she hadn't seen anyone from the city or the power company, and she hadn't been able to get help over the telephone.

"There is nobody," she said.

Aburahma was waiting to remove the largest of the limbs until she could get a chainsaw, and she said she planned on buying a generator, too.

Also on Kanawha Avenue, Jo Kessler was dealing with an uprooted tree that was sprawled horizontally across her driveway and into her neighbor's yard.

The tree fell about 7:30 p.m. Friday, but Kessler was at a dinner party, and her son was the only one home.

"He said it sounded like a bomb going off," she said

By Saturday afternoon, family friends and workers from Robert L. Wolfe Construction stood on the tree, sawing off thick limbs and helping clear up debris.

Kessler held a glass of ice water as she watched the men work.

"In West Virginia, we're not supposed to get stuff like this," she said.

Cowboy Crihfield of Crihfield Farms at Capitol Market said he was driving in Jackson County when Friday's storm hit.

"I've never been so scared in my life," he said. "We live up on a hill, and I just wanted to get home to my wife."

Ron Crihfield had nine trees across his driveway in Jackson County Saturday morning. He started cutting and pulling trees out of the way at 5 a.m. to get out to the Capitol Market and sell produce.

Power is out at his greenhouses, so fans are off, and temperatures are climbing. If the power is off too long, he said, he could lose crops.

Kanawha County set up numerous cooling stations throughout the region to help residents get out of the heat, but they saw little traffic Saturday afternoon. Cheryl Gaynor, senior program coordinator for Charleston, sat inside an office at the North Charleston Community Center. Although much of the area lost power, Gaynor said only one elderly woman had visited the center by 2 p.m. Saturday.

Eight elderly residents had visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center by 3 p.m. Saturday, mostly to get some cool air, said Amanda Thompson, program coordinator for the King Center. People filled the center's pool.

Both centers offered air conditioning, cold water, snacks, games, cots and a place to sit.

The South Charleston Community Center remained closed because of a power outage, a sign on its front door read Saturday.

In St. Albans, the annual Riverfest celebration got a scare from the storm.

St. Albans' Riverfest Teen Queen Cassie Taylor was standing Friday next to a classic red Corvette, preparing to pose for a picture when the sky suddenly went black. Dirt and sand swirled from the ground in a tornado-like manner lifting construction cones, signs and car roofs with its gusts of wind.

"We took off running in our seven-inch heels as construction barrels whipped right past us," Taylor said Saturday. "It was more than chaotic. I've never seen such fingers of light on the river like that before."

Wearing an orange pageant dress, a shiny tiara and dangling jewelry Saturday, the Hurricane 16-year-old recalled the scary storm she and hundreds of others endured at the 18th annual Riverfest in St. Albans.

Attendees had only minutes to take shelter once the rainfall turned into strong winds. Taylor and other festival royals ran into Mayberry's Restaurant, where they went without electricity for 20 of the nearly 90 minutes they hid inside.

Some scattered under tents that eventually collapsed, while others hid in the basement of a small A-frame building.

Mozella Miller and two others -- one of them a Riverfest queen who wore a fancy dress, heels and jewelry -- ran inside a camper next to the festival's stage. The three women sat at a small table inside until they heard a loud bang against the trailer. A tree had hit and bounced off the trailer's top, falling inches behind the camper's rear.

They ran into the camper's bathroom, crouched to the floor and held each other's hands, Miller said.

"The front door was blocked by a tree, so we went to the back door and got it open," Miller said. "Then, water started coming in."

Despite several uprooted trees, smashed pickups (including the Riverfest president's truck), and the festival's early ending Friday, no injuries were reported, said Greg Harkins, vice president of Riverfest.

Harkins -- who said he didn't get a wink of sleep Friday night -- started picking up branches with the help of city workers and fellow festival board members as soon as the storm ceased. A tarp that served as the roof for the performance stage blew away and the tree that missed the camper fell onto a large strap that secured the stage to the ground.

"We had to cut the tree in small sections to revamp the stage," Harkins said. "The strap pulled the stage back, so if we would have cut the strap, then the stage would have fell back."

The tree fell behind the stage and, although missing the camper, crushed two other vehicles and a power generator. Riverfest had one working generator by Saturday afternoon -- enough to keep the festival going, Harkins said. The generator gave power to the stage, as well as a few vendors.

"When we run out of power, we'll run out, but we're not going to let it get us down," Harkins said. "You can sit at home and be bored or come here and eat and have some entertainment. We plan on having good attendance today."

Seventy-seven people ran in the festival's 5K distance run at 8 a.m. Saturday, Harkins said.

Pete Dethlefs of Surf City, N.C., said he lost about $3,000 worth of merchandise at his "traveling rock shop" to the storm. Blue Earth Traders sells Himalayan salt lamps, jade horse statues and unique rocks.

Dethlefs said he had about five minutes to prepare for the wrath of the wind. Although he had a significant amount of items break, he realized things could have been worse.

"I had two tents that got wiped out and caved in on each other, but people were helping each other," Dethlefs said. "When stuff like this happens, you just get mad later on and deal with it now."

The large tree that fell behind the stage crushed Ken Bannon's truck but the senior producer at MPE Entertainment, which provided sound and lighting for the festival, said he's glad that everyone is OK.

"Property can be replaced, but as long as nobody's hurt, we're still going to have a show tonight," Bannon said. "It ate the truck completely and left the [pageant] girls safe. It could have the truck again as long as those girls were OK."

Taylor said she, too, was glad no one was hurt, and was happy to see the camaraderie at Riverfest.

"I love how caring everyone has been. People could be worried about the $20,000 equipment, but they were more worried about everyone else and making sure they were OK," the Teen Queen said. "I'm excited to see people come out and celebrate with us still. It's good to have a festival to keep people's spirits up."

Riverfest events are cancelled today, according to the St. Albans Police Department.

Staff writer Dawn Miller contributed to this report.

Reach Alison Matas at alison.matas@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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