Sunday, July 01, 2012
McDonnell: 'This is a very dangerous situation for Virginia'
Governor Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency. Power may not be fully restored until Saturday. Roanoke tops 100 degrees for second straight day.
Erica Yoon | The Roanoke Times
Head climber Geoff Largen with Bartlett Tree Experts tries to navigate between lines and a downed tree limb behind a home on Memorial Avenue Southwest.
Jeanna Duerscherl | The Roanoke Times
Tree limbs hang Saturday on a power line near a house on Walnut Avenue Southwest. The storm that swept through Friday evening left many people throughout Virginia without power.
Jeanna Duerscherl | The Roanoke Times
Martha and Charlie Boswell (right) and their neighbor Larry Richardson survey a large tree that came up by its roots in their back yard during Friday evening's storm. Officials on Saturday were still trying to assess the storm's damage.
Jeanna Duerscherl | The Roanoke Times
William McCormick checks in at a cooling center at the Roanoke Civic Center. Officials said few people arrived at the emergency shelter during the day.
In today's paper
- ‘Derecho’ transits into public lexicon
- Heat wave continues to set records
- Downed power lines are suspected in Roanoke house fire
- Power outage leaves 1,400 in Vinton without water
- Trees knocked down, power knocked out after storms hit region (June 30, 2012)
And even more
Swift but violent storms Friday night led to the deaths of at least six people across Virginia, left millions without power Saturday and prompted Gov. Bob McDonnell to declare a state of emergency across the commonwealth.
The storms brought wind gusts in excess of 80 mph across much of Southwest Virginia after a day of triple-digit temperatures. Two of the deaths were in Bedford County.
More than 218,000 Appalachian Power customers in Southwest Virginia remained without power late Saturday — down from 242,000 earlier in the day — and utility officials said it could be a week before electricity was fully restored. At one point, more than half of the utility's customers in Southwest Virginia were without power, and more than 3 million people were without power across the Eastern Seaboard.
As temperatures Saturday again reached 100 degrees in parts of the state, the governor urged people to look out for one another and check on elderly neighbors. He said the threat of more storms and continued extreme heat could mean days of misery.
"This is a very dangerous situation for Virginia," McDonnell said Saturday morning in a news conference at the state's emergency operations center in Richmond. "It will take several days to restore all power, so Virginians should plan accordingly. This is not a one-day situation; it is a multiday challenge."
McDonnell said the storm had caused the largest nonhurricane power outage in state history.
"Just from the sheer numbers, it's going to be a lengthy situation," said Todd Burns, an Appalachian spokesman. "Be patient, please. If you are without power, turn off the major appliances in your home until we restore power. That will help us avoid a situation where we get a power surge and it blows another fuse."
Power may not be restored until Saturday for many people, including customers in the Roanoke area, said Appalachian spokeswoman Jeri Matheney.
"Many customers will have power way before July 7, but we don't expect to have everyone's power working" until then, Matheney said. "It was just such an extensive storm."
The Virginia Department of Emergency Management reported six deaths across the state following the fierce storms, including two in Bedford County, where an elderly couple died in a Big Island house fire apparently caused by the severe weather.
Crews arrived at that fire in the 1000 block of Edmunds Street just after 4:25 a.m. Saturday and found two elderly people dead, according to a news release from the Bedford County Sheriff's Office.
"Preliminary reports indicate this tragic fire may have been the unfortunate result of the inclement weather experienced throughout Bedford County," the release said.
The bodies were taken to the medical examiner's office in Roanoke for autopsy, and officials continue to investigate the fire.
State officials reported two other deaths in Albemarle County and two in Fairfax County.
In Franklin County, a firefighter was critically injured when a falling tree struck him Friday night, officials said.
County Administrator Rick Huff said the Boones Mill volunteer firefighter was responding to a call in his personal vehicle when he encountered a road already blocked by trees. He got out of his vehicle to help motorists and was struck by the tree, Huff said.
The firefighter, whom Huff did not name, was reportedly in critical condition at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital on Saturday morning.
With temperatures that rose above 100 degrees again Saturday, several localities opened cooling centers.
By noon, only six people had taken advantage of the cooling center at the Roanoke Civic Center. Officials kept the center open as a shelter overnight Saturday. By 9 p.m., 97 people had registered to stay through the night, Fire-EMS Department spokeswoman Tiffany Bradbury said.
Robert Glass, who lives in an apartment complex in Roanoke and was at the cooling center Saturday, said he and his neighbors had been told it could be three to four days before power is restored at their complex.
"I decided to just come here, see if I can help out, and be cool at the same time," Glass said.
Reports of structure damage varied widely across the Roanoke and New River valleys. In Roanoke, a two-alarm fire likely sparked by downed power lines Friday night destroyed one home on Carroll Avenue Northwest and scorched two others. In Roanoke County, officials reported that trees had fallen on several structures, and wind had damaged the roof of the Fort Lewis Fire and Rescue Station. In Pulaski County, state emergency officials reported at least one structure fire related to the storm.
Around Southwest Virginia, there were hundreds of reports of downed trees and power lines, according to the National Weather Service. Emergency officials were inundated with calls for service — some emergencies, some not, officials said.
"At one point, the department had nearly 200 calls pending for response," Roanoke County Fire and Rescue spokeswoman Jennifer Conley Sexton said.
Roanoke police spokeswoman Aisha Johnson said the city's E-911 dispatch center received 895 phone calls between 9 p.m. and midnight Friday, including 44 reported structure fires and 191 reports of felled power lines.
At least six area municipalities declared local emergencies, including Botetourt, Craig, Franklin, Pulaski, Roanoke and Rockbridge counties.
In Henry County, 100 percent of Martinsville residents were without power about 10 a.m., according to Tim Hall, Henry County's deputy county administrator. Memorial Hospital of Martinsville and Henry County was operating on generator power, officials said.
Hospital spokesman Ryan Shepherd said the facility had one generator running and was working to bring in another one. The hospital had minimal air conditioning running, he said.
Representatives for Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital and LewisGale Medical Center said those facilities had not experienced power outages, but both said the hospitals had seen an increase in patient volume.
LewisGale implemented its disaster plan Saturday afternoon in response to the storm, according to a hospital press release.
"We've already seen an increase in patients who are coming directly to our hospitals and arriving by EMS from other hospitals in the region that are on diversion" because of high patient volume, said LewisGale Regional Health System President Victor Giovanetti. "By activating our emergency code, we have additional physicians and staff to handle the increased demand."
In Roanoke, power outages hit dozens of businesses, including Towers Shopping Center on Colonial Avenue.
Archie Fralin, the store manager at the Towers Kroger, said the store, and one in Bonsack, would remain closed until power is restored. The stores were moving refrigerated goods into chilled trailers.
"At this point, we just want to keep everything under proper temperature," Fralin said.
Scott Jones and his family were outside Friday night attempting to cover their pool when large branches cracked off of their neighbor's tree and landed on the Joneses' Chevrolet Traverse in the driveway.
Jones called Botetourt Tree Service on Saturday morning, and once the workers arrived at his house on Dexter Road in Roanoke County about 4 p.m., they were able to remove the branches and cut other limbs off the tree in less than an hour.
"We were lucky," Jones said. "Considering what could have happened, it's not that much damage."
Jones, like the others on his street, was without power Saturday evening. He said he was running his generator outside and attempting to stay cool.
According to Appalachian's website, the timeline for power restoration begins Tuesday with Floyd County and ends Saturday with "Amherst County, as well as portions of Bedford, Botetourt, Campbell and Roanoke counties."
Matheney said that once the utility restores power to critical infrastructure, such as hospitals and service stations, the company will figure out what areas can be restored next and most quickly.
"If we have an area where we can restore power to 1,000 people, we'll do that before the area that can only restore power to 100 people," Matheney said.
Appalachian has 1,500 workers aiding in power restoration, she said.
"We have people from other utilities who have come from Missouri and Alabama to help," Matheney said. "Our own company workers are dealing with problems in their own states. Usually we would pull people from Ohio, but we just can't do that this time because they have so many outages in Ohio."
The company said more than 50 of its substations were out of service, and crews were using helicopters to determine the extent of the damage to its high-voltage lines.
Staff writers Melissa Powell and Michael Sluss,and The Associated Press,contributed to this report.