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UPDATED 7/3/12: Appalachian Power Co. crews and contractors worked hard to restore power to Twin County customers on Tuesday, but some homes were expected to be without power until Friday.
APCo’s president, Charles Patton, said the long waits for power restoration can be attributed to the size of the storm and the availability of help from contractors.
Charles Patton toured the company’s Virginia and West Virginia coverage areas on Monday.
Numbers provided by Appalachian on Tuesday showed 2,444 customers in Carroll County without power — down drastically from more than 9,000, or half of the county’s customers, the day before. There were 1,623 in Grayson County still without power on Tuesday and 131 in Galax.
More than 230,000 Appalachian Power customers in Virginia lost electricity on June 29, after a severe storm swept through the area, knocking down trees and downing lines. As of Tuesday, a total of 286,000 utility customers throughout Virginia were still powerless, including customers of Appalachian and other utilities, like Dominion Power.
At least 10 deaths have been attributed to the storm — though none in the Twin Counties — and the damage prompted Gov. Bob McDonnell to declare a state of emergency.
FROM 7/2/12: The smell of pine sap hung in the air along U.S. 52 north in Hillsville and a chainsaw buzzed while a neighbor worked to remove the branches that blocked the southbound lane.
An ancient, towering white pine had come down, snagging power, phone and cable lines off the utility poles as it toppled, just tall enough for its uppermost branches to block half the road.
This occurred at about noon Sunday, after that part of town had been largely spared from any dire consequences Friday when a storm with winds estimated at about 80 mph raged through Virginia, causing a total of about half a million people statewide to go without power. This storm was followed by more severe weather on Saturday and Sunday evenings.
The lack of power caused many to suffer through the temperatures in the mid-90s without air conditioning or fans. Many local customers have been told power won’t be restored until this weekend.
The June 29 gale that rumbled like a tractor-trailer whipped and bent the trees before them like a field of wheat. When trees fell or limbs broke off, they took out power for thousands of people in the Twin Counties.
“I got home from work about 9:15 [Friday night] and went back out on my front porch to feed my cats and all of a sudden it sounded like a freight train coming,” Evelyn Baker posted on The Gazette’s Facebook page Saturday morning. “Everything went flying and [when] I got up this morning, there was branches out of my oak trees.”
There were reports of large hail and lightning strikes, as well.
Wind blew over a barn on Fries Road in Galax, though most of the city was spared major damage.
Members of the Akers family, who live on Water Plant Road, volunteered to direct traffic and remove the fallen pine as emergency officials responded to a deluge of reports during the Sunday incident.
(Kelvin Akers had already been using his chainsaw that weekend to get rid of another tree that narrowly missed his house from the Friday storm.)
Another tree had fallen next to Hillsville Church of God nearby on 52, and another neighbor pushed that one out of the road with a tractor.
It became crucial for traffic to flow better around the two downed trees on 52 as the HIllsville Fire Department needed to respond to a report of a power line that fell onto a trailer.
Scenes like this played out all over Carroll County over the weekend and into Monday.
Town crews worked to clear severely damaged Bradford pears on Main Street and business owners climbed ladders to straighten or re-install their signs.
“Coon Ridge area of Hillsville was worst,” Ashley Davis posted on The Gazette’s Facebook page. “Blew shutters off my parents’ house and ripped garage door off the hinges of their building. Uprooted large trees, also.”
“Daughter has no power in Fries and is being told [it won’t be restored] until the 7th!” Crystal Leonard said on Facebook. “Not gonna make a very happy 4th of July for many folks!”
Lack of electricity also meant no water for many. “No power in Hillsville, but our generator runs our well,” said Lauren Spivey Self. “Very thankful for that electrician!”
Appalachian Power reported in Carroll County on the last day of June 5,870 customers were without electricity and that had risen to 8,164 for the first day of July. Carroll County’s tally rose to 9,303 customers going without Monday.
In Grayson, that number peaked at 2,329 on Monday. In Galax, about 143 people were still without power Monday.
While the Twin County numbers went up on Monday, the statewide figure for Appalachian Power fell from 240,627 to 192,705.
Michele Esqueff Leonard, who lives on River Hill Road, said she has been without power since last Friday, and Appalachian Power has told her it might be Saturday before it is turned on again.
No reports of people being killed or injured had come into the Carroll Sheriff’s Office on Monday, according to Sheriff J.B. Gardner. People sweltering through the heat without power became a priority for emergency officials.
The damage to parts of Hillsville and Carroll County seemed significant without question. “It looked like somebody just set in with artillery and just started blasting away,” Gardner said.
Fallen trees and power lines were everywhere throughout the community.
People on breathing machines without power became a concern in the aftermath of the weekend’s intense heat and the severe storms. The sheriff’s office has a generator on a trailer that could power up those breathing machines, Gardner said.
Some people called after the electricity went out wondering what they should do.
Though sheriff’s office personnel made the callers aware of the generator, no one asked for that kind of assistance in the end. Gardner speculated that either their medical supply company or family or friends took care of those needs.
The Red Cross opened a shelter Sunday at Gladeville Elementary School to provide people a place to go and get out of the heat. Cots were spread out through the gym there, but the shelter only had helped four people as of early Monday.
Churches like First Baptist in Hillsville opened up as emergency shelters for a time and Mount Olivet east of Galax on U.S. 58 put on a free dinner Monday evening for people without power.
“It’s just kind of cool when people do those things,” Gardner said.
The sheriff knows that the building inspector got information on houses with trees on them Sunday to check them out.
People felt on edge by Sunday, Gardner said. Some of them had been without electricity as early as Friday. Gardner said his office got several calls involving peoples’ frayed nerves from going without basic services.
“People are irritable,” he said. “They haven’t had power and it’s hot....they’re just frustrated with everything that’s going on... They can’t get on with their daily lives.”
People calm down quickly once deputies arrive on the scene.
All in all, the storms could have ended up with much worse results. “We’re blessed so far that it’s not worse than it is.”