Interim Emergency Services Director making plans
Power outage goes into Day 11, telephone, Internet services restored to most residents
Interim Office of Emergency Services Director Shawn Dunbrack said Monday that Pocahontas County is still in recovery from a freak windstorm that ripped through the mountains on June 29.
Dunbrack said once power is restored in all Pocahontas County communities, he plans to plan for the next emergency situation.
This storm was unique in several regards-from the type, a derecho, meaning straight line winds with small downbursts, to its 150-mile-wide size, to its complete wreckage of power and communication systems.
Dunbrack said he'll reactivate the Local Emergency Planning Committee, which has been defunct for the last two years. He'll also work toward employing schools as emergency shelters and training people to start generators at those shelters so that when emergencies happen, they'll be activated without having to be called each time.
Outside services were delayed because the first call to the Red Cross and National Guard made by former OES director Melvin Martin did not relate how bad the storm damage was, but the widespread outages and damage also contributed to the delay in services, Dunbrack said.
The Red Cross started to bring meals Tuesday from Bath County, Virginia. Lewisburg's Red Cross unit began bringing meals later in the week. The meals were assembled at the Pocahontas County Courthouse, the First Baptist Church in Huntersville and at the Marlinton Presbyterian Church for distribution to homes and fire departments.
The National Guard responded on Tuesday, as well, with 19 total soldiers, who broke up into two-person teams, covering 3,055 miles, hauling more than 40 pallets of water, unloading about 35,000 pounds of ice by hand in three hours and assisting in one fire call in Hillsboro, Dunbrack reported.
In spite of the tremendous task at hand, Dunbrack said people had their eyes on a goal.
"People worked together well," he said. "Even people who hadn't worked together before."
He thinks weather situations like the deracho will likely happen again because of changing weather patterns.
"I can't say it was a once in a lifetime thing," Dunbrack said.
In comparison people believed the 1985 flood that devastated Marlinton, Durbin, Cass and Seebert was a "500-year event." But major flooding happened again in 1996-twice.
"I hope [the derecho] doesn't come again in eleven years," Dunbrack said.
Pocahontas County had one storm-related death and one serious injury, one family lost their home near Hillsboro, he said. Other damage included trees falling on homes and buildings and missing roofs.
On the night of the storm, the 9-1-1 Center fielded 338 calls, Dunbrack said. The average number of calls for the same period is 16, he said.
Patti Michel, spokesperson for Monongahela Power said Monday that of the company's 280,000 people without power as a result of the storm, 95 percent were restored to the grid; however, a second storm on Sunday left an additional 40,000 customers powerless, she said.
As for the length of time it took to get power restored, Michel said West Virginia's terrain and widely-dispersed population hampered the workers' efforts. In Marion County it took 19 new poles and 25 spans of wire to restore three customers, she said.
Hundreds of poles have been replaced and about 400 more area-wide need to be, she said.
More than 6,300 First Energy-the company that owns Mon Power-contractors and outside utility crew members were working in West Virginia, Michel said.
"Our crews are out in the heat; we've tried to encourage them to stay hydrated," Michel said. "We're going to continue to work around the clock to restore customers as quickly and safely as possible."
The crews work roughly 16-hour days, she said, and the call center is open 24-hours a day.
"Somebody is always here," she said.
Tuesday, First Energy's website showed Pocahontas County down to 241 customers still without power.
Frontier Communication should be back to "business as usual," said area representative Reta Griffith.
But not before local crews spent 16-hour days shuffling generators and trying to keep local residents in dial tones.
Griffith said one crew member came home from vacation to help out.
On Friday, Griffith said 20 generators were still out, down by half from the peak of the damage.
An ongoing maintenance project helped Frontier's poles stay intact, she said, with crew members regularly reporting poles that are not safe to climb.
Only about a dozen of the phone company's poles were damaged, she said.
Even when dial tones were back, some residents could only call 9-1-1 and within their own exchanges, according to Griffith.
Internet service was restored to most of the county by Thursday.
While the state has been declared a Federal Disaster Area, individuals are still not eligible for FEMA assistance until the total amount of damage exceeds a certain dollar figure. That amount was not available Tuesday.
FEMA will offer assistance to public entities including educational, utility, irrigation, emergency, medical, rehabilitation and temporary or permanent custodial care facilities. Those entities may apply directly to FEMA for a disaster grant. All other private-non-profits must first apply for a Small Business Administration Loan.
According to a media release from FEMA, projects falling below $63,900 are considered small. For small projects, the payment of the federal share of the estimate is made upon approval of the project and no further accounting to FEMA is required.
For large projects, payment is made on the basis of actual costs determined after the project is completed, the release said.
Residents are urged to call 304-799-4624 to report all damages from food loss to home and building damage.
Pamela Pritt may be contacted at pepritt@pocahon tastimes.com