Saturday, June 30, 2012
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Trees knocked down, power knocked out after storms hit region

At least 50,000 customers lost power, Appalachian reported.

Firefighters battle a blaze that fully engulfed a house on Carroll Avenue in northwest Roanoke on Friday night. The house caught fire as trees knocked into power lines, creating sparks. Chris Davis and his daughters, Kayla, 12, and Cheriece, 8, were able to get out.

Stephanie Klein-Davis | The Roanoke Times

Firefighters battle a blaze that fully engulfed a house on Carroll Avenue in northwest Roanoke on Friday night. The house caught fire as trees knocked into power lines, creating sparks. Chris Davis and his daughters, Kayla, 12, and Cheriece, 8, were able to get out. See a video of the fire.

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Much of Southwest Virginia was left in the dark Friday night after an evening storm with gusts topping 80mph swept through the area, downing trees and sparking fires.

Between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m., dark clouds blotted the sky after a sunny, record hot day. Within minutes lights inside homes began to flicker, and many lost power altogether.

By 11:30 p.m., at least 50,000 Appalachian Power Co. customers were without electricity across Southwest Virginia, according to spokesman Todd Burns. Nearly 1million were in the dark across its entire service territory, Burns added.

Outage reports continued into the quiet hours of the night.

"What we need is daylight," Burns said. "This storm hit us in the dark, so a lot of the damage — we really don't know what we're dealing with until we can get out and look at it."

Burns said that outage estimates were preliminary, and that homes and businesses could be without power for days.

Firefighters battled a blaze at three homes on Carroll Avenue, in the northwest part of Roanoke, said Tiffany Bradbury, Roanoke Fire-EMS spokeswoman.

One two-story home, at the corner of 16th Street and Carroll Avenue, caught fire as trees crashed over power lines, sending sparks to the roof and gutter.

Chris Davis watched with his two daughters as dozens of firefighters arrived on scene to extinguish the flames. One of his daughters, Kayla Davis, 12, pulled herself close to his chest as she watched the flames destroy her home.

"We were about to go to sleep," she said, teary-eyed.

By midnight, Chris Davis said the Red Cross was en route to help his family get through the night.

With temperatures near 100 again forecast for today, power crews would coordinate with local officials to determine if and where shelters should be opened for others, Burns said.

It was not immediately clear just how much actual damage the strong storm caused. The Roanoke Regional Airport recorded a wind gust of 81 mph shortly after 9 p.m.

In Roanoke County and Salem, emergency dispatchers were dealing with numerous reports of structure fires, building collapses, vehicle wrecks and downed power lines. Few could be immediately confirmed.

By midnight, Botetourt County Emergency Services Director Carr Boyd said 90percent of Botetourt County was in the dark. Boyd said no serious injuries were reported.

"We did have the carnival going on in Buchanan, which was able to be evacuated successfully," Boyd said. "We've just had a lot of power outages and trees down."

At Salem Memorial Ballpark, an announced crowd of 2,444 fans scurried for cover in the top of the eighth inning as the storm halted the game between the Red Sox and Potomac Nationals.

The stadium lost power as fans took shelter under the stadium — an area normally off-limits to spectators — for about an hour. Powerful gusts blew dust and trash into the air.

"Now is the time to go to your cars," a Sox employee announced about 10 p.m., after the storm had finally passed. "Please do so quickly."

But it was still a regular Friday night for some people. The 7-Eleven convenience store at the intersection of Williamson Road and Oakland Avenue was packed, a long line stretching from the register with people buying beer, bread and chips.

Ashley Monroe, 27, of northwest Roanoke said the power at her house went out in the early evening. With nothing to do, she and two friends went driving to survey the damage. Monroe said she pulled into the 7-Eleven parking lot for gas, but also to socialize.

By 11 p.m. the day's high temperatures in the triple digits had dropped into the 70s.

Roanoke's high temperature was 103 degrees, according to a 5 p.m. climate statement from the National Weather Service in Blacksburg. It was the highest temperature Roanoke has recorded in 29 years.

Highs are forecast to be in the mid-90s to near 100 across most of Southwest Virginia through at least Monday.

The storm system that passed through is often called a "derecho" — a bowing line of storms that produces damaging winds over hundreds of miles. The storms started near Chicago early Friday afternoon and raced southeast, knocking out power to an estimated 3 million through Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia before doing the same in Virginia.

Staff writers Kevin Myatt and Aaron McFarling contributed to this report.




Chase Purdy | The Roanoke Times




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