BLUEFIELD — An unreal night melted into a surreal day, as area residence felt the aftermath of a fast-moving summer storm that blew away many of the trappings of modern civilization and drove the public back in time to fast food and gas station lines reminiscent of the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo.
From a temperature standpoint, Saturday’s high matched Friday’s — degree for degree — registering record high temperatures both days with Saturday’s temperature shattering the old mark by 8 degrees — adding to the misery of some 12,000 powerless homes in Mercer County, 7,000 in McDowell and 3,400 in Tazewell County, Va. For most in Mercer and McDowell, the Appalachian Power Company estimates that the misery will continue until Friday night, July 6.
“I don’t think you’ll have another storm (Saturday) like the one you had (Friday),” Peter Corrigan, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va., said. “There’s a little convection out in Indiana, but that thing last night was like a once in a lifetime experience — maybe a once in a long, long time experience.”
Kenneth Davidson was sitting on the porch of his Jones Hill home outside of Bramwell when the storm came through.
“I was just out there trying to cool off when the wind started picking up through the trees, and then just cut loose,” he said. “I’ve never been in a hurricane, but I imagine that must be what it feels like. It didn’t rain much. But the wind hit our driveway hard enough to kick up the gravels. I’ve never seen wind like that.
“After it blew for a while, it just stopped,” Davidson said. “It was like what I imagine the eye of a hurricane must be like. I had been watching our flag on the pole like it was about to blow off, but when the wind stopped, it just fell limp. We didn’t get much rain, but we need it. I looked out in the yard, and there were more limbs on the ground than there are in the trees.”
The storm was so intense and violent, that it took time for people to realize what happened. Rick Owens of Rocky Gap, Va., lives in a sheltered valley on the southern slope of East River Mountain and didn’t know that a storm passed over him until Saturday morning when he learned that several families in Bland were left powerless.
“I didn’t even think it rained,” Owens said.
The Associated Press reported that State Senator Mark Wills, D-Mercer, was traveling with his daughter and another passenger near Summersville when the storm struck. The AP reported that he apparently rear-ended another vehicle and his vehicle struck a bridge abutment.
Senate President Jeff Kessler told the AP that Wills, 56, was alert and stable at Charleston Area Medical Center, but remains in intensive care under observation.
Jeri Matheney, a spokesperson for Appalachian Power characterized the storm on Friday night as, “The worst storm we’ve ever had,” she said. APCO said that 323,000 APCO customers in West Virginia lost power, and another 234,000 customers in Virginia lost power. With about 1 million customers in the two Virginias, the combined total of outages represented more than 50 percent of the company’s customers in the two Virginias.
“It’s supposed to be really hot again today,” Matheney said. “This is unusual for a summer storm. Usually, a winter storm can cause large outages, but with wind speeds of over 80 miles-per-hour in Roanoke, Va., and 68 mph in Beckley — the winds were just amazing.
“The scope of this storm is truly record-setting,” Matheney said. She said that 12,000 (33 percent) of all Mercer County customers, 7,000 (54 percent) in McDowell County, 3,400 (16 percent) in Tazewell County, Va., 721 (5 percent) in Buchanan), 675 (17 percent) in Bland are without power. She said that 39,000 APCO customers in Raleigh County, or 96 percent, are without power, with total restoration not expected until July 5.
Trooper B.D. Gilespie of the Welch Detachment of the West Virginia State Police got called out at 12:15 a.m. Saturday morning to help evacuate the McDowell County town of Maybeury due to a natural gas leak from a ruptured Dominion Gas pipeline.
“Dominion notified 911, and told them they had a valve that got knocked off,” Gilespie said. “I don’t know that for sure, but that’s what I think happened. We notified all the residents that they needed to evacuate, but we can’t be sure they all left. Dominion contacted Norfolk Southern Railway and told them to shut down.”
Robin Chapman, NS spokesman said that Dominion notified them about the gas line at 10 p.m. “We are running traffic again, but it’s been slow,” Chapman said. “We had 400 to 500 trees down on the Pocahontas Division alone. We are having trouble with power outages in Roanoke and Shenandoah, Va., and in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Belview, Ohio. We have trees down elsewhere, but not as many as in the Pocahontas Division.” The Pocahontas Division is headquartered in Bluefield, and extends from the eastern city limits to Kenova.
The weather on Friday had area emergency responders on the move through the night. Chief David Thompson of the Green Valley-Glenwood Volunteer Fire Department said the department battled a brush fire on clover Dew Dairy Road, a fire at Woody’s Trailer Park and a fire in a ventilation fan on the roof of Carter Machinery.
President Barack Obama has issued an emergency declaration for West Virginia, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide help and relief to the 680,000 people left without power. President Obama’s declaration follows a declaration by West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
Contact Bill Archer at firstname.lastname@example.org