Friday, July 06, 2012

OUTAGE UPDATES: Appalachian says it's on track

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From today's newspaper: Barring any future storms, goal to restore power on track

From Thursday's newspaper: Appalachian Power adding crews in effort to meet restoration goals

From Wednesday's newspaper: Read our Q&A with Charles Patton, president and COO of Appalachian Power

Outage map: The latest from Appalachian Power

13,000 customers in Southwest Virginia still without power
Posted 1:05 p.m. Saturday

Fewer than 13,000 customers in Southwest Virginia remain without power today.

Appalachian Power said on its website Saturday morning that power had been restored to 80 percent of its customers. More than half a million customers, including 243,000 across the utility's Virginia territory, lost power as a result of storms on June 29. Fewer than 30,000 Appalachian customers in Virginia are still without power, the utility said.

The company projected on its website that 95 percent of customers in its service area would have power by Sunday night.

Customers in Pulaski, Bedford, Roanoke, Botetourt and Franklin counties and those in the city of Roanoke are expected to have power today.

Thursday storm causes more outages, closes Vinton pool
Posted 11:50 a.m. Friday

A passing storm caused a slide in Appalachian Power Co.'s repair efforts Thursday, but officials say three-quarters of the customers who lost electricity after last Friday's storm have now had it restored.

Company spokeswoman Jeri Matheney said Virginia outages are now about 75 percent repaired, with approximately 59,000 in the region still without power.

The company's website this morning lists about 32,300 outages in the combined counties of Roanoke, Bedford, Botetourt, Floyd, Franklin, Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski and Wythe.

Matheney said about 17,000 customers were affected by the strong storms that moved through the area Thursday afternoon.

Vinton's war memorial and municipal pool were among the locations hit Thursday.

"We had had power all along until yesterday," said Mary Beth Layman, the town's special programs director. She said the pool remains closed until further notice.

Appalachian estimates 95 percent of its customers will see a return of service by late Sunday.

The company's website says Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski and Wythe counties should be restored sometime tonight. Bedford, Botetourt, Franklin and Roanoke counties, as well as Roanoke city, are slated to have power by Sunday night.

According to Matheney, Thursday's storm also darkened 7,000 customers in Tennessee, a state that previously had not experienced any significant outages.

More Roanoke customers lose power
Posted 6:40 p.m. Thursday

As many as 2,000 more customers are without power in Roanoke this evening following a thunderstorm that moved through the area earlier.

Appalachian Power Co. reported 10,643 homes or businesses without electricity at noon. After the 4:30 p.m. thunderstorm passed through that number increased to 12,503 by 6:30 p.m., according to the utility.

— Jordan Fifer

Craig-Botetourt customers in Eagle Rock should get power back tonight
Posted 5:08 p.m. Thursday

In the Eagle Rock area, 400 to 500 customers with the Craig-Botetourt Electric Cooperative were still waiting for their lights to return this afternoon.

Cooperative official Shawn Hildebrand said their power likely would return tonight.

“They’re out because we do not have electric service to our substation from Dominion Power,” Hildebrand said. “Once we get that transmission line repaired, we should have it up in about an hour.”

Hildebrand said the cooperative serves about 7,000 customers.

— Chase Purdy

Appalachian Florida power crew home, citing 'inappropriate behavior'
Updated 5 p.m. Thursday

A crew of 82 out-of-state contractors working to restore power in the Roanoke Valley area was sent home early today, after Appalachian Power Co. fired them.

Appalachian spokeswoman Jeri Matheney would not give specific details about why the Florida-based OnPower crew was dismissed.

“We released them because of the inappropriate behavior of some of the individuals working for them,” she said. “We simply could not tolerate it.”

Matheny said a 142-person crew with Entergy out of Arkansas has been approved to replace them. She said the Davis H. Elliot Co., based in Roanoke, also is contributing 124 to the effort to restore power.

Reached by phone, OnPower General Manager Tom Esch today said his crew’s services were terminated by Appalachian without notice.

“They would not provide us with any information or reason,” Esch said of Appalachian. “They said that there was some issue with employees after hours at the hotel.”

Esch said he was shocked when he learned about the dismissal.

“We wish we could be there to continue with the effort,” he said. “We certainly enjoyed working with the people of Roanoke and we regret any incident or issue that possibly happened. Our company would never tolerate any type of behavior other than the utmost professional.”

Appalachian officials said they anticipate most customers in the Roanoke and New River valleys will have their power back by Saturday night. Since Tuesday, more than 54,000 Appalachian customers in Virginia have seen a return to power, according to data provided by the utility.

Following a severe storm that passed through the region Friday, more than 243,000 Appalachian customers in the state lost their electricity. This afternoon, 77,000 were still waiting for it to be restored.

— Chase Purdy

Transformer fails, bringing more outages to Rocky Mount
Updated 5 p.m. Thursday

At least 3,500 additional customers are without power in Rocky Mount today after a transformer at an Appalachian Power Co. substation failed, officials said.

Rocky Mount police Sgt. David Bowles said Appalachian officials told his department that people may be without power for up to 48 hours while crews truck in a replacement part to the substation on Scuffling Hill Road.

Appalachian spokeswoman Jeri Matheney confirmed the outage and said a replacement transformer is on the way.

The outage has left the sheriff's office and the county's 911 center powerless, according to Franklin County Sheriff's Capt. Harry Clingenpeel. Both are operating off a generator, he said.

Nearby Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital is operating off a generator as well, spokesman Eric Earnhart said, as is Trinity Mission Health and Rehab of Rocky Mount, an assisted living and rehabilitation facility, according to a woman who answered the phone there.

— Jordan Fifer

750 more workers to be dispatched to Virginia, West Virginia outage areas
Updated 6:35 p.m. Wednesday

Concerned about not meeting the goal of having power restored to everyone by Saturday, Appalachian Power is bringing 750 additional workers to Virginia and West Virginia tomorrow.

About half of them will be in Virginia, said spokeswoman Jeri Matheney.

“They were going to other AEP companies but got redirected to our area because some other places are on target for meeting restoration goals and we are not,” she said.

The new crews will join the approximately 3,000 workers already restoring power to Virginia and West Virginia, she said.

Those crews, working 16 hour shifts, continued to repair downed lines, damaged circuit breakers, broken poles and other problems throughout the day and into the evening.

As of 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, approximately 57 percent of customers who lost power had been restored. Still, 96,775 of the company's half-million customers in Virginia remain without electric service. In Roanoke 13,640 customers still do not have power. In Roanoke County 8,379 customers don’t have power.

— Sarah Bruyn Jones

Appalachian hits halfway point of restoration
Updated 1:05 p.m. Wednesday

Appalachian Power says it has restored power to 50 percent of its customers.

As of 11:45 a.m., Appalachian Power reported that 110,578 Virginia customers were without power. That includes 14,217 in Roanoke, 8,741 in Roanoke County and 6,731 in Montgomery County.

"We've reached that halfway mark," said spokeswoman Jeri Matheney. "Of course we're not as happy as we would be if it was 95 or 100 percent."

As the company continues to work on restoration, crews are finding more broken poles and downed lines, Matheney said.

"We are concerned because we keep seeing so much damage, so we are concerned about reaching that finish line when we want to," she said. "We are worried about that."

Even so, Matheney said Appalachian is sticking with its current restoration timeline for now. The company has more than 3,000 people working in its service area, with half of the workers in Virginia.

"It seems to be a misconception that because some of these areas have later dates for restoration means we’re not starting as soon," Matheney said. "We’re already there and restoring power. It’s just going to take longer in some places, but we’re working everywhere."

Matheney said the reason the Roanoke area is not estimated to regain power completely until Saturday is that Roanoke was one of the hardest-hit locations. Customers may notice that rural areas are up and running first, and that's because those areas may have fewer customers or less damage, she said.

"If you’re out and about in Roanoke, and you see a tree on a line, it looks like, 'just fix it,'" she said. "But before you can get power back, you have to fix that line, and the one four blocks away, and the substation, so there may be four or more problems to fix before that customer gets power back."

— Melissa Powell

Power crews working through the holiday, Appalachian says
Updated 9:45 a.m. Wednesday

Thousands of Roanoke-area residents will be celebrating July Fourth in the dark and in the heat as they enter the fifth day of power outages caused by Friday night’s storm.

According to Appalachian Power’s website, last updated at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, 26,211 customers were still without power in Roanoke and Roanoke County, compared to 30,695 at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday.

The site reported that all of its customers in Radford have regained power.

In Montgomery County, 7,362 customers were in the dark as of Tuesday night.

According to the site, 95 percent of the company’s customers should have power restored by Sunday night.

Appalachian Power estimates that power could be restored in Buchanan and Russell counties on Wednesday; in Floyd, Smyth, Tazewell and Washington counties on Thursday; in Bland, Carroll, Giles, Grayson, Montgomery, Pulaski and Wythe counties on Friday; and in Albermarle, Amherst, Bedford, Botetourt, Campbell, Craig, Franklin, Henry, Nelson, Patrick, Pittsylvania and Roanoke counties and the cities of Roanoke and Lynchburg on Saturday.

A spokesperson was not immediately available this morning, but the website said crews will continue working through the holiday.

Power back on in Salem, city reports
Updated 2:15 p.m. July 3

Salem reports that power has been restored to all of its residential and business customers.

Anyone who is still experiencing electrical problems related to Friday's wind storm should call the city's electric department at 375-3030.

Storm was 'major historical disaster,' Appalachian Power president says
Updated 11:40 a.m. July 3

The president of Appalachian Power Co. this morning said previous estimates still stand and that the bulk of power would be restored to the Roanoke Valley area by Saturday, with a few customers waiting into next week.

Charles Patton, who stopped in Roanoke while touring the company’s Virginia and West Virginia coverage areas, said the long wait can be attributed to the size of the storm and the availability of help from contractors and other utility companies.

Numbers provided by Appalachian showed more than 18,500 people in Roanoke were still without power this morning, close to 37 percent of the overall customer base in the city.

More than 230,000 Appalachian Power customers in Virginia lost electricity Friday night, after a severe storm swept through the area, knocking down trees and downing lines. At least 10 deaths have been attributed to the storm, and the damage prompted Gov. Bob McDonnell to declare a state of emergency.

Patton said many power companies, including his own, are members of a contractual program called Mutual Assistance, in which utilities agree to help each other in times of outages.

Patton said his company held a meeting within two hours after the storm to assess the help they needed to request from the Mutual Assistance program. They decided to ask for 500 extra workers, a large underestimation. By the next day, Patton said they realized they needed close to 1,500 additional people.

“The challenge we had for this particular storm is that many of those that are nearby, they were also impacted,” he said. “We had to reach farther to get the resources to help us. Instead of adjacent states, we’ve had to get people from the Gulf Coast, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Florida, North Dakota.”

Michael Mercier, the Appalachian Power district manager for Roanoke, said the Sunday storm set the restoration back because of the damage it left in its wake.

Both company officials said two types of power lines took hits from the storm: transmission lines, which often stretch through the countryside carrying a great deal of electricity from power plants to substations, and less powerful distribution lines, which can be seen in neighborhoods.

Patton said about 90 transmission lines were damaged, and that the effort to fix them – which has included the use of helicopters – remains largely unseen by the general public.

“The trucks are where the damage is, and the damage might not be visible to you,” Mercier said.

Patton said about 1,200 people are on the ground in the Roanoke-Lynchburg areas, working shifts that stretch from about 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Almost none of those workers continue the restoration effort at night, he said.

“That’s just not work that’s conducive to pitch black,” Patton said. “We’re dealing with hills and rural areas.”

He said workers also are facing punishing heat, which has slowed the effort to restore power.

He said the company has a request out for more help, but how many will answer that call remains to be seen. Patton said that in a “perfect world,” 750 additional people would be ideal.

According to today's numbers from Dominion Power, about 76 percent of its customer base has had power returned. Patton said Appalachian has restored about a third of its Virginia customers with power. He said the disparity comes from the fact that Appalachian had to respond to more rural areas than Dominion.

In Virginia, the two areas hardest hit were Roanoke and Lynchburg, Patton said.

Asked if he’d do anything differently, Patton said he would not, chalking up the slowness to circumstance.

“It’s really unfortunate, I really do understand, and I’m very sympathetic that we’re having these outages,” he said. “But this storm was a major historical disaster. The damage is tremendous.”

A Charleston, W.Va, resident himself, Patton said his power was restored Monday evening.

Appalachian officials ask that people stay away from downed power lines during the clean-up process. Already two people, one in West Virginia and one in Virginia, have been electrocuted while handling live wires.

--Chase Purdy

Roanoke declares emergency; city crews removing trees. Updated 3:05 p.m.

Roanoke's city government has declared a state of emergency after this weekend’s round of storms and power outages. The declaration, following a statewide declaration by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, will allow the city and its residents to tap into any federal funds that become available to pay for damage caused over the weekend.

Assistant City Manager Sherman Stovall said this afternoon that roughly 24,000 houses in the city are still without power. City crews have responded to 107 of 176 requests to clear trees that have fallen within rights of way.

Most streets have been opened, he said, but six remain blocked due to downed power lines, which city workers cannot move. Instead, they’ll have to wait for Appalachian Power Co. crews.

Thirty-two intersections remain without power – down from 50 earlier today – and police are working to signal motorists through some of Roanoke’s busiest intersections.

City officials have opened a cooling center at the Roanoke Civic Center. More than 140 people stayed there last night, and it will remain open until at least Wednesday. The center is serving meals, is pet-friendly and is open to all, whether they reside in the city or not.

Updated 1:30 p.m.

Updated repair information posted on Appalachian Power’s website today indicates that some areas may have longer waits than they expected.

Floyd, Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski and Wythe counties, which had been tentatively scheduled to see power return by Tuesday or Wednesday, could now be waiting as long as until Friday, the website said.

Franklin and Henry counties’ repair date has been shifted from Thursday night to Friday night.

Bedford, Botetourt, Craig and Roanoke counties are still slated to be back online by Saturday night.

Company spokeswoman Jeri Matheney said they are including Roanoke city within their repair estimates for Roanoke County.

New River Valley power update: 1:25 p.m.

Thunderstorms and strong winds blew through the New River Valley Sunday night, complicating recovery from Friday night's storms in some communities, including Pulaski County.

By Sunday, power had been restored to all but about 25 percent of county residents, assistant county administrator Robert Hiss said this morning.

But more thunder, lightning, rain and high winds Sunday night left 39 percent of the county's about 35,000 residents without power this morning, Hiss said.

Volunteer firefighters and rescue departments have been run ragged by brush fires sparked by downed power lines and people needing care for health problems exacerbated by heat, Hiss said.

In fact, some infrastructure unaffected by Friday's storm was damaged by Sunday night's storm. Pulaski County Community Hospital was without power today until about 11:30 a.m., Hiss said.

Some public schools where the county had set up cooling centers for residents without air conditioning were also without electricity today and closed.

An emergency operations center has been set up at the Pulaski County government building, and a new cooling center and shelter has been opened in cooperation with the Red Cross at New River Community College's Edwards Hall.

"We're going to staff it overnight if people need that," Hiss said.

A hotline has been established for county residents seeking information about shelters and other emergency services at 994-2602, Hiss said.

Information about power outages will not be available through that phone number, and residents should report outages to their electricity provider.

Updated 12:40 p.m.

As of 12:30 p.m., Appalachian Power is reporting that 199,844 Virginia customers are without power, compared to 192,705 at 8:30 a.m.

That includes 25,353 in Roanoke, 20,235 in Roanoke County and 10,173 in Montgomery County.

For a full list of outages, visit

Updated 12:30 p.m.

Last night’s storms caused about 30,000 additional Appalachian customers to lose power, mostly in Christiansburg and Wytheville.

“We took a couple of steps backwards,” said company spokeswoman Jeri Matheney.

She said Wytheville was “one area that wasn’t hit really hard and now they have increased their outages by a lot. They have joined the club.”

Additional parts of Roanoke also lost power early today due to a storm that arrived in the hours after midnight.

Matheney said the additional outages may cause increased delays in repair schedules.

She also said people should use care in clearing storm damage, particularly limbs that have fallen near lines.

“We really don’t want people to do that if there are lines anywhere near. It’s just too dangerous,” she said.

Updated 10:30 a.m.

At the top of the Fourth of July holiday week, Southwest Virginia enters a third day plagued by brutal heat and power outages left over from Friday night’s windstorms.

According to Appalachian Power’s website, 44,000 customers remain dark in Roanoke and Roanoke County. The company serves about 94,000 in the combined areas.

The National Weather Service in Blacksburg predicts a slight but welcome dip from the weekend’s twin 100-degree scorchers – the first case of back-to-back days at or above 100 degree temperatures in June since 1934.

Highs in the area this week are expected to be in the low 90s, with occasional rounds of storms possible.

Late-night storms on Sunday hit the New River Valley and areas south of Roanoke pretty hard – 64 mph gusts were recorded in Dublin, 59 mph winds blew through Blacksburg.

Power outage totals reported in other areas included:

Floyd County: 2,100 (24 percent)
Franklin County: 8,900 (28 percent)
Giles County: 4,000 (40 percent)
Henry County: 4,300 (15 percent)
Montgomery County: 11,000 (30 percent).

Eighty-one percent of Craig County’s 1,000 customers, or roughly 841, were listed without power just before 10 a.m.

A spokeswoman was not immediately available this morning.

Salem, which distributes electricity through its own system, reported on its website this morning that fewer than 20 customers were without power in the city.

“Thousands went off the grid when the wind storm came through the city Friday night, but now all but a handful have their power restored,” the notice said.

Appalachian Power estimates that power could be restored in Floyd on Tuesday; in Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski and Wythe counties Wednesday; to parts of Bedford, Franklin and Henry counties on Thursday night; and portions of Bedford, Botetourt, Craig and Roanoke counties by late Saturday.

Posted 9:52 a.m.

About 24,000 households are still without power in Roanoke, assistant city manager Sherman Stovall said this morning.

During a briefing to the city council, Stovall said that nearly 150 people stayed at a "cooling center" at the Roanoke Civic Center last night.

Roanoke Police Chief Perkins said his department has double-staffed areas without power to combat a rash of burglaries and other crime. Perkins said there have been issues in residential areas of South Roanoke, as well as with businesses in the southeast, southwest and northwest quadrants.

Perkins said police have seen particular problems in the Hershberger Road-Williamson Road area, where he said burglars have been testing power by throwing rocks through windows and then waiting to hear an alarm.

Perkins said residents should lock their homes and cars to help prevent burglaries.

Stovall said that six streets in the city are still blocked by downed lines and 50 intersections are without power.

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