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Snow socks the Twin Counties

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As many as 6,000 people in Grayson were powerless after the Jan. 17 storm.

By Mike Morris

UPDATED 1/21/13 — Four days after the Jan. 17 storm that dumped a foot of snow on the area, Appalachian Power Co. reported on Monday that Grayson County still had the most people in the region without electricity.
There were an estimated 2,355 powerless in Grayson, or about 23 percent of customers, down from 6,000 outages the day of the storm.
On Monday, Carroll County had 858 customers without power (down from 2,300 on Jan. 17)  and Galax had 311 (up a bit from the 243 without power the day of the storm.)
In total, there were 9,810 Virginia customers without power, down from 54,021 statewide on Jan. 17.

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Carroll County Emergency Services Director Mike Mock said he believes the power outages were caused by heavy limbs weighted by snow and coming into contact with the lines. Many trees, their root systems loosened by heavy rains in the days before the snowstorm, fell across roads and took down lines, as well.
He knew of no significant injuries relating to the storm.
Mock on Monday reported that the family of five who sought refuge at Carroll County Intermediate School had gone home after staying from Friday to Sunday. “There was no power in their home, no heat,” he said.
Mock said the couple and their children were the only ones to take up the offer of emergency shelter at the intermediate school, despite the county fielding several calls from people in the community who said they needed help. He assumed that the rest of the people got their electricity back on or found someplace else to stay.
By Monday, APCo has restored power in most places, except for a swath of eight counties from Washington on the west to Montgomery to the east and north to Giles County and Bluefield. Some people have been told to expect electricity service to return by today, Wednesday.
For many, the power was restored just in time. The week’s weather forecast for an arctic blast of temperatures could have left many dangerously cold.
“Nobody in town had power, so only a few businesses were open,” said Billie Jo Delp, owner of Independence Florist on Main Street. Along with her business, she saw Food City, US Cellular and Quik Check accepting customers on Friday, the day when most people started digging out.
Although she had no walk-in customers, Delp said that they were kept busy with funeral arrangements, and they still did a lot of business over the phone. “My employee and I made it into work just fine,” she said. “I would have loved a snow day, but we had a lot of work to do.”
Many Comcast customers were without cable, Internet and phone service from Thursday until Saturday afternoon.
Delp also lost power due to the storm. “We lit some candles and bundled up, basically,” she said. “The problem was, we had a cordless phone, so it didn’t work. Everything was on my cell phone, fortunately, but the battery was dying on it.”
Thankfully, power was restored on Friday, and Delp noted that she’d heard of others who didn’t have to wait long.
“A lot of people said that they got power back quicker than they had expected,” she said.
Many other families were forced to cope without electricity and water as they waited for restoration.
While the snow was still falling, fire departments, rescue squads and other organizations sprung into action, opening several shelters in the area.
Fries Fire Department’s Chief Robbie Carrico reported that volunteers were out until after midnight on Thursday working on a number of problems, such as fallen trees, severed power lines, and answering rescue calls.
Volunteers from the Red Cross and Carroll Department of Social Services cooperated to make the county’s shelter available, Mock said. He did not immediately know the cost to operate the shelter.
Mock said he appreciated the efforts of those who ran the shelter, as well as the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office personnel, who visited with people who reported difficulties because of the snowstorm.

UPDATED 1/20/2013 — Three days after the Thursday snow storm and APCo reports that Grayson County still has the most people still without power.

As of Sunday evening, APCo has 2,386 customers in Grayson without electricity service.

At the same time, Carroll County had 748 customers without power and Galax 308.

While the entire region had experienced outages in the wake of the winter weather that dropped around a foot of the snow, APCo has restored power in most places except for a swath of eight counties from Washington on the west to Montgomery to the east and north to Giles County and Bluefield.

Some people have been told to expect electricity service to return by Wednesday morning.

1/18/2013 — Twin County residents struggled on Friday with the previous day’s snowstorm, with many losing power or getting stranded on Interstate 77 as eight to 12 inches fell on the area through early Friday morning.
Independence was expected to be without electricity until Saturday, after the lights went out in the midst of the storm around 7 p.m. Thursday.
Grayson County opened emergency shelters at the Fries Fire Station, Rugby Fire and Rescue and Independence Rescue Squad in response to the deteriorating conditions. Galax Police Capt. James Cox said the city had no shelters open Friday morning. Typically, Galax uses the recreation center as an emergency shelter.

In Hillsville, Red Cross and emergency officials opened a shelter at Carroll County Intermediate School, according to Cathy Swisher, acting chapter disaster coordinator.
“It will be open as long as anyone needs it,” she said.
Disaster action team members will cooperate with Department of Social Services workers. Mike Mock, Carroll’s emergency services director, was making arrangements to get people picked up if they needed it, Swisher said.
The fire and rescue departments in Grayson County reached out to those in the community in dire situations, such as those who lost power, needed water or food or who have special medical needs.
“Anyone is welcome to come down to the new firehouse,” said volunteer Buddy Moore of Fries Fire and Rescue. “We are fully furnished. We’ve got cots, air mattresses, food and drinks and places to shower.”
Rugby Fire and Rescue’s building was open to anyone without power or patients on oxygen who need shelter.
Moore said that several calls had already come over the radio Friday morning with requests for help.
Power failed for residents across the Twin Counties, according to information from Appalachian Power on Friday morning. The figures put the outages at 6,028 customers in Carroll, 6,901 in Grayson and 897 in Galax. Phone and Internet service was out for many Comcast and Verizon customers on Friday.
Falling trees closed roads, including Interstate 77, when one toppled in the snow at the 16 mile marker in Carroll.
Many tractor-trailers pulled off at truck stops at Hillsville’s Exit 14 and then had to be towed to get out of the snow where they parked near Airport Road and Farmers Market Road.
Virginia State Police troopers and dispatchers fielded more than 764 calls for service as the ongoing storm system moves across the commonwealth,” authorities reported at 10 p.m. Thursday. The busiest regions were Southwest Virginia and the New River Valley.
Statewide, between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday, Virginia troopers responded to 135 traffic crashes and 138 disabled vehicles.
State police dispatchers fielded at least 400 more calls for assistance and other information. Most crashes involved damaged vehicles only.
“As of 8:30 p.m., state troopers are still handling 193 calls for service, with 99 of those being traffic crashes and another 65 for disabled vehicles,” said information from the state police on Thursday.
Traffic moved on Interstate 77, but slowly, as the sun came out and the snow began to melt on Friday morning.

Fire department opens doors of new firehouse to those in need

FRIES — While residents of the Town of Fries and surrounding areas bundled up for the night during this year’s first major winter storm, the Fries Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad spent the night tending to fallen power lines, answering emergency calls and setting up a shelter at the fire station.
Fire Chief Robbie Carrico and volunteer Buddy Moore both said that they managed to get around five hours of sleep before coming back in on Friday morning.
“So far, it hasn’t been very busy,” said Carrico on Friday. “We have one man staying the night here for sure now.”
During the night, they received an emergency call from Thomas Strupe, a resident on oxygen stuck in his home due to a blocked road. When they arrived at the scene, the department had to saw through many trees that were blocking the path for the ambulance.
When members of the department first arrived at the station on Thursday evening, the plan was to simply put snow chains on the wheels of the trucks. “It escalated pretty quickly from there,” said Moore.
Working along with Independence Rescue and Rugby Fire and Rescue, the three departments opened shelters for anyone who needed access to food, water, and electricity.
The laughter echoing through the hallways between members of the department and other members of the community added a cheerful atmosphere to those who walked into the building.
“Right now, we have 20 empty beds, but that can increase if necessary,” said Carrico. “We were asked how many we could handle, and I said, ‘Send anyone who needs help our way. We’ll find a place for them.’”
Working together with the other shelters, they were able to trade supplies back and forth to provide what was necessary at each station.
“We all work very well together to make sure everyone gets what they need,” Carrico said.
Independence Rescue provided the department with mattresses. “If needed, we can contact the National Guard for cots,” Carrico said.
Twin County Regional Hospital also provided help by lending supplies such as blankets.
Put together at the last minute, the departments managed to pull together to provide a safe haven for their community. “We will continue to remain open until we are no longer needed,” Carrico said.
He also announced that next year, a more organized facility will be available to the public. “We will be converting the old Providence School into a shelter capable of comfortably housing 380 people,” he said.
The shelter will be fully equipped, with all of the basic necessities such as a kitchen and showers.

Contact numbers for Grayson County shelters are: Fries Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue, 744-2141; Independence Rescue, 773-3035; Rugby Fire and Rescue, 579-2261. The contact for Carroll County’s shelter is the American Red Cross at 236-2891.