Neighbors unite to overcome outage
As the Peanuts character Snoopy would begin the story, ﾓIt was a dark and stormy night.ﾔ For most of us, the storm was witnessed from the inside of our homes, watching in a daze as trees bowed to the ground in deference to the wind.
But, for one Green Bank girl and her uncle, the storm was experienced from a motorcycle.
Nine-year-old Jennalee Meck and her uncle, Amos, were returning home after a day at Lake Moomaw with friends. While Amosﾒs wife, Kelly, drove their friends home, Jennalee opted to ride with ﾓUncle Bud.ﾔ
ﾓThe sky was dark and we had to stop near the Boy Scout camp to put our raincoats on,ﾔ she said. ﾓWhen we got back to Green Bank, there were trees across the road at the school, and we tried the other way, but couldnﾒt get through there either.ﾔ
With the rain and wind beating down on them, the pair drove back to Jacob Meck Construction, Jennaleeﾒs parentﾒs business, and managed to get inside out of the rain.
ﾓAmos got a chainsaw and keys to one of the trucks,ﾔ Jennalee said. ﾓIt took us forever to get home.ﾔ
The pair finally managed to get home around midnight, to the relief of Jennaleeﾒs parents, Jacob and Malinda, who had no idea what had happened to them.
While most people were trying to get home and indoors away from the storm, Bartow-Frank-Durbin Volunteer Fire Department Chief Buster Varner went out to check on the community.
ﾓI was at the restaurant [Station 2] and my daughter came running in and said a big tree fell up on the hill, and lights were flickering on and off, carrying on,ﾔ Varner recalled. ﾓI went to the firehouse and got the command vehicle, and drove around town, trying to contact [the 9-1-1 center] to see if there was a storm warning.ﾔ
There was no warning. Varner acted as the warning for Durbin.
ﾓI was telling people on the radio ﾑif you donﾒt need to be out, stay indoors,ﾒﾔ he said. ﾓI was thinking we were going to get some kind of tornado or something close to it.ﾔ
A storm is one thing, but the resulting damage and more than a week without power is quite another.
The next morning, as the county woke to damage and no electricity, it was time to put the pieces back together.
ﾑWhat are the chances?ﾒ
For Arbovale resident Retta Blankenship, her sense of humor got her through. During the storm, Blankenship watched from an upstairs window as a silver maple tree fell onto her 1999 Subaru, cracking the windshield and denting the roof.
ﾓIt was an oldﾅ maple, crap tree of some kind,ﾔ she said joking. ﾓFrom the upstairs window, Iﾒm thinking ﾑoh it didnﾒt do any damage.ﾒ I watched it settle and I said to myself, ﾑwhatﾒs the chances?ﾒﾔ
Ironically, this is not the first time a tree has fallen on one of Blankenshipﾒs vehicles.
ﾓAbout five years ago, one of those [trees] out there went down on my truck. If I can fix it [the car] and pay for it myself, I said Iﾒm not even calling State Farm because theyﾒre going to say, ﾑthe old tree on the car, that story is getting a little old,ﾔ she said laughing.
One of Blankenshipﾒs two horses also gave her a funny memory from the storm. As her friend, Randall Shears, was bringing the horses back to the barn, the trees in the surrounding woods were cracking, which spooked one horse. She said the horse turned his head with a look that suggested he was thinking, ﾓwhat is coming behind us?ﾔ
Shears got the horses safely back to the barn.
ﾑThis was the only fuelﾒ
Along with personal residences, area businesses dealt with damage, due mainly to the power outage. Henryﾒs owner Holly Taylor and Trentﾒs owner Bobby Ervine both said they lost the majority of their refrigerated and frozen merchandise.
ﾓWe lost about all our frozen stuff,ﾔ Ervine said. ﾓI was going to give stuff away, but nobody could take it. We lost ice cream, but of course, ice cream goes within 24 hours. Itﾒs a milkshake by then.ﾔ
Ervine said his saving grace was the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which allowed local businesses to store food in their freezers and refrigerators.
Once power was restored at the main Trentﾒs store, Ervine still felt leary about restocking cold merchandise.
ﾓWe got some lunch meat on a grocery truck. Weﾒve been holding off because we donﾒt know if itﾒs going to go back down, so we didnﾒt order any frozen stuff,ﾔ he said. ﾓItﾒs been chaotic. Itﾒs been hectic.ﾔ
While the stores lost food, they maintained a heavy flow of customers who flocked to the gas pumps to fuel vehicles and generators. On June 30 and July 1, Sheriff David Jonese asked stores to limit each customer to 10 gallons to allow everyone a chance to get fuel.
At the main Trentﾒs store, Ervine said he received 550 gallons to refill his tanks and within an hour, his tanks were empty again.
ﾓIt wouldnﾒt have been so bad, but Holly [Taylor] broke down and I was broken down at Bartow, so this was the only fuel,ﾔ he said.
Outside help arrives
As residents of the upper end tried to stay cool and maintain composure, areas businesses and volunteer organizations jumped into action to offer assistance with water, food and cooling areas.
BFDVFD in Durbin had bottled water available for residents and chief Varner also had water at his business, Varner Construction.
ﾓShawn Dunbrack [Pocahontas County OES and 9-1-1 director] sent the National Guard up here with water,ﾔ Varner said Thursday. ﾓ[They] are going down Back Mountain and theyﾒre coming out at the senior citizens or the observatory to get more water. They are also doing welfare checks. Iﾒm sending them out to the rural areas to make sure everybody is okay.ﾔ
All the time Varner was assisting residents who did not have power, he did not have power at home.
ﾓWe have town water, but there is no way to heat it,ﾔ he said.
As of Thursday, July 5, Varner said one street in the town of Durbin, the west end of town and Johnﾒs Run Road did not have power.
ﾑLet the people use themﾒ
The Frost Volunteer Fire Department also offered bottled water, as well as meals, and use of their shower and laundry facilities.
Department member David Taylor said when the fire department built the new facility next to the existing building, a shower and laundry room were included for the firemen to use.
ﾓWe decided to let the people use them since theyﾒre here,ﾔ Taylor said of the shower and washer and dryer. ﾓIt could take a while because we just have the one washer and dryer, but people are welcome to use them.ﾔ
After the State of Emergency was lifted in Bath County, Virginia, Taylor said the American Red Cross brought meals over to the FVFD to hand out. Meals that were left over from the fire department were sent to the NRAO to be distributed around the upper end.
To a lot of upper end residents, the NRAO was a beacon of hope during this dark time. The main ﾓcampusﾔ of the NRAO never went without power with the use of a generator at the beginning of the outage and receiving restored power by Sunday.
ﾑWe all went down at one timeﾒ
NRAO Business Manager Mike Holstine said the onsite housing and parts of the employee housing area and the swimming pool area were not restored with the NRAO.
ﾓWe wish we could open the pool, but thereﾒs not power to it, so we canﾒt get the water filtered,ﾔ he said.
Holstine explained that the substation powering the NRAO is split three ways and also powers Cass and Durbin. While the main area of the NRAO is on one line, for some reason, the recreation area, including the pool, are on a separate line that was not restored at the same time.
Holstine reasoned that the restoration of power was so uncommon ﾖ in some areas neighbors are on different lines ﾖ because of the way the lines were installed in the beginning.
ﾓA lot of these lines were installed over time over the last 60 to 65 years. They were pieced in as people moved in and built houses,ﾔ he explained. ﾓWe all went down at one time and theyﾒre trying to get what took 65 years to build back up in a week. Even though they arenﾒt building it, they still have a lot of work.ﾔ
Because it maintained power the entire time, the NRAO offered shelter, food, water and other amenities to the community.
ﾓWe opened up the [Starlight] Cafe, we could get food. We offered air conditioning, and one of the first things we did was open up our residence hall to those emergency cases that needed oxygen,ﾔ Holstine said. ﾓThose who had oxygen [concentrators] could come here and stay. We didnﾒt have any oxygen bottles here, but they could come here with their [concentrators] and stay.ﾔ
The observatory also offered use of the showers and laundry facilities at the bunkhouse, until Saturday, when a group of 40 to 50 fourth graders moved in to the bunkhouse for a week-long summer program.
Along with storing cold merchandise for Trentﾒs and Henryﾒs, the NRAO also stored medical supplies for Dr. John Eilers.
The Green Bank Senior Citizens Center moved to the cafeteria at the observatory to offer three meals a day. Volunteers took turns assisting with meals, as well as driving around the area to deliver meals, water and ice.
While offering assistance to the area, the NRAO was back to business shortly after the storm, with only minimal damage to equipment.
ﾓAll the telescopes seem to have survived,ﾔ Holstine said. ﾓWe have one that weﾒre still checking out, but the GBT [Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope], all the break systems and everything that was supposed to work seem to have worked. It did survive without any problem and it is in operation.ﾔ
The GBT stood tall during the storm, although it did do a little dance, thanks to the powerful winds.
ﾓWe think we had winds recorded on that Friday in the 80 to 85 mile per hour range, but then all of our monitoring and control software went out when the power did, so we donﾒt know what the peak winds were,ﾔ Holstine said. ﾓIt blew the telescope around but the breaks locked in and it held up fine. The telescope has seen 95 mile per hour winds before and survived.ﾔ
Holstine said the design specifications of the telescope allows it to withstand 120 mile per hour winds, although he hopes the county never sees winds of that magnitude to test the telescopeﾒs abilities.
The science center and telescope tours were only closed June 30 and July 1, but opened back up Monday, July 2.
Most of the damage on the site was downed trees and stray limbs, including the trees near Green Bank Elementary-Middle School which damaged the fence around the tennis courts.
ﾓOur maintenance crews have been working not only on the equipment and the telescopes, but also getting all that cleaned up,ﾔ Holstine said. ﾓMy crews have put in long hours, day after day after day, and I still have people that donﾒt have power at their house, and theyﾒre in here working.ﾔ
Through all the chaos of losing electricity and the feeling of helplessness, Holstine said he was proud of the way all the communities came together to help each other get through this trying time.
ﾓEveryone has been tremendous,ﾔ he said. ﾓWe [the NRAO] try to be a part of this community and if we have the resources, we want to make them available to help. My people live out in the community just like everybody else does, so weﾒre hoping to provide everything that we can, and are thankful for everybody helping us, too, as we need it.
ﾓOne thing about it, everybody I know has a ﾑcan-doﾒ attitude,ﾔ he continued. ﾓThatﾒs what it takes and we will get it done with that attitude.ﾔ