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Some progress made restoring power

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Repair crews made some progress Wednesday restoring electricity to thousands of West Virginians who were still without power, but officials say it could be Sunday before all customers in Kanawha County have their lights back on.

"We are now being advised by AEP that this is a long duration event with power outages and some areas of Kanawha County could be without power through Sunday," according to a news release from county manager Jennifer Sayre.

Power is expected back for 90 percent of customers Friday night in Beckley, Bluefield, Hamlin, Hico, Huntington, Logan, Point Pleasant, Ripley, Wayne and Williamson.

Ninety percent of customers in the Charleston, Cross Lanes, Sissonville, Glasgow, Madison, Milton and Walgrove areas should have power Sunday at midnight.

Areas that are not listed are still in the process of being assessed and restoration times are unavailable at this time.

In Kanawha County, trick-or-treating is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, after it had been postponed from Tuesday.

Two separate incidents Tuesday night, both in Barbour County, as well as three others confirmed Wednesday brought the storm's death toll in West Virginia to at least six.

John R. Rose Sr., 65, of Philippi, a Republican candidate running for the House of Delegates in the 47th District, was outside working on his deer farm when he was fatally struck by debris from a tree, according to a State Police trooper with the Philippi detachment.

George Rose told The Associated Press his father was with his wife when their all-terrain vehicle became stuck. She had begun walking away as he tried backing it up, he said.

"She heard the limb break, but she had already walked a little ways. She didn't think anything of it, and didn't realize that anything was wrong. But then she saw he wasn't coming,'' the younger Rose said.

Another man, 60, had a heart attack while shoveling snow, according to Leslie Fitzwater, a public information specialist for the state. On Monday, a 40-year-old woman died in a weather related car wreck in Tucker County.

Amy Shuler Goodwin, a spokeswoman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, identified the woman as Nanci Hedrick of Davis.

Upshur County authorities investigated the death of an Arlington man, identified as Mark Riffle, 51, who died after operating a gas generator inside a detached garage, according to the Upshur County Sheriff's department. He apparently went in the garage by himself to refuel the generator.

His wife went in to check on him and found him unresponsive. He was later taken to St. Josephs Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Also, a 68-year-old Preston County woman was ill and trying to get to a hospital, but died Tuesday when the family vehicle got stuck in snow.

State officials are also considering the death of a Raleigh County woman, who died of hypothermia late Sunday before the storm hit, as storm-related.

Power remains out statewide       

About 78,545 state Appalachian Power customers remained without electricity at 9:45 p.m. Wednesday, down from almost 126,000 Tuesday night, according to the power company's website.

In the northern part of the state, 94,118 First Energy customers were without electricity Wednesday evening, compared with almost 110,000 the night before. That number began to rise during the day as continued snowfall in First Energy's service area brought down lines and knocked out power that had been previously restored, according to Mon Power spokeswoman Patti Michel.

Michel said attempts to assess the extent of the storm damage were hampered by continued bad weather and up to 30 inches of snow in some areas. "We can't get our helicopters up in the air," she said.

First Energy officials were predicting it would be early next week before many customers see electricity restored, and mid-week for customers in remote areas. Officials hoped to get a helicopter in the air today to survey line damage and come up with a more precise schedule for power restoration.

There were nearly 19,326 customers without power in Kanawha County Wednesday evening, down from a high of 44,310 on Tuesday. Most of the outages were in the Charleston area, Sissonville and St. Albans.

Power company officials have said it will probably be Sunday before electricity is restored. AEP crews have also had trouble assessing storm damage because of bad weather and the inability to fly helicopters to inspect power lines.

Appalachian Power spokeswoman Jeri Matheney said damage so far has been less severe than with the summer's derecho storm and its aftermath. Although substations and circuit breakers were out and lines were down, the heavy snowfall damaged few if any utility poles.

AEP repair crews replaced about 1,800 utility poles in the aftermath of this summer's storms, a process that takes about four hours for each pole, she said.

Although snow had turned to rain in the Kanawha Valley on Wednesday morning, it was still snowing in many of the state's highest elevations, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service said.

"In the valley the switch to rain ... and warmer temperatures are starting to eat away a lot of the snow," said meteorologist Tim Axford. "That should help recovery efforts. [Power] Crews aren't having to trudge through a lot of snow.

"We're not expecting too much more in the way of accumulation," he said.

As the snow starts to melt, meteorologists are determining the threat of flooding, Axford said.

"We're currently assessing the flooding risk -- mainly over the weekend. We do have up to 3 feet of snow in the mountains, and this weekend's forecast, even though there's not much in the way of precipitation, it will depend on how quickly things heat up and how fast the snow melts," he said. "If it all melts at once we could be looking at some flooding."

In the Kanawha Valley, flooding doesn't seem to be a threat, according to Axford, who said the rain has been steady rather than a heavy downpour.

West Virginia was hit by unexpectedly heavy snowfall Monday and Tuesday as the storm system stalled over the state. School was canceled in at least 16 counties Wednesday, and at least 14 counties were operating on a delayed school schedule.

School systems canceled today are: Barbour, Boone, Braxton, Clay, Fayette, Greenbrier, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Preston, Raleigh, Randolph, Upshur and Webster. Some schools in Grant and Lewis counties are also canceled.

Emergency shelters remained open throughout the night in Kanawha County and approximately 35 people used the shelters.

Emergency overnight shelters will be open for those without power at the following locations:

* Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Sissonville

* Salvation Army at Roane and Tennessee avenues in Charleston

* Hansford Senior Center in St. Albans

People staying at shelters should try to bring the following items: prescription and emergency medication, extra clothing, pillows, blankets, hygiene supplies, flashlights with extra batteries, small board games, books, specialty snacks and juices for dietary restrictions, basic snacks, baby food and formula, diapers, chairs, identification and insurance papers.

Sayre said that pets are allowed at shelters, but they must be in crates.

Fitzwater said the hardest-hit areas in the state were Tucker and Nicholas counties.

"That would be the ground zero of the storm, but of course many other counties have quite a bit of problems as well," she said.

Kanawha county officials said the Emergency Operations Center is open and able to take non-emergency calls, including providing information about power outages and shelters. Call 304-756-8748 or 304-746-8743. Officials urged residents to call 911 only in the event of an actual emergency.

County officials again reminded drivers that a non-working traffic light is to be treated as a four-way stop sign.

The West Virginia Department of Transportation said anyone with a downed tree in their area should call their local district office of the DOT. District numbers can be found at http://www.transportation.wv.gov/highways/districts/Pages/default.aspx.

State parks, forest closed

Damage from Sandy also prompted state officials to close 17 state parks and forests, but most were expected to reopen by the weekend, as park staff, volunteers and contractors make repairs.

"One-inch to 2-feet of snow has covered about 70 percent of our state parks and forests," said State Parks and Recreation Chief Ken Caplinger. "Most areas have also received extensive rainfall and varying degrees of wind, which in turn resulted in many fallen trees that caused even more damage."

State parks that closed on Wednesday due to damage from Sandy include Audra, Babcock, Berkeley Springs, Blackwater Falls, Bluestone, Cacapon, Canaan Valley, Carnifex Ferry, Hawks Nest, Holly River, Stonewall, Twin Falls and Valley Falls. State forests closed by storm damage were Cabwaylingo, Coopers Rock, Kanawha and Kumbrabow.

Caplinger urged visitors to call parks with an "iffy" operational status, including Cass Scenic Railroad, Cathedral, Droop Mountain, Little Beaver, Moncove Lake, Watters Smith state parks, and Seneca State Forest.

Remaining open on Wednesday but without power were Cedar Creek State Park and Greenbrier State Forest, while Beech Fork State Park was open but operating with partial power.

Several parks traditionally close for the season on Nov. 1, including Beartown and Blennerhassett Island.

Caplinger said visitors planning to visit a specific state park with lodges or cabins should call the park directly to learn about current conditions and availability.

Staff writers Kathryn Gregory, Rick Steelhammer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1716.


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