|By Dennis Brown
residents awoke Sunday to discover a heavy coating of ice and no utilities.
A winter storm passing through the area deposited ice on every surface causing trees
and limbs to fall onto the also ice-covered electric telephone and other utility lines,
resulting in shorts, broken lines and broken utility poles.
Dennis Brown/Lewis County Herald
Broken and fallen tree limbs are evident in this
picture taken along a power line near Vanceburg. Power crews have had problems making
repairs to the damaged lines because of inaccessibility to the remote areas. Some rural
residences may remain without power for several more days until all the lines can be
checked and repaired.
Before Noon, nearly every residence in Lewis and surrounding counties was without those
basic services we've grown so accustomed to.
Utility workers scrambled to make repairs as calls were made from the working
telephones of those without electricity. It quickly became apparent that workers could not
keep up with the rate of damage to the lines.
As freezing rain continued to accumulate, more and more limbs and lines tumbled to the
To complicate matters even more, travel became more dangerous due to slick road
surfaces along with trees, limbs and utility lines blocking roadways. Working in areas
where the limbs were falling created hazardous working conditions for workers trying to
keep roadways open and those trying to restore power.
By late Sunday the accumulating ice was too much for many trees and limbs. The sounds
of falling trees and limbs breaking under the extreme weight sounded like random gunfire.
By Monday morning, as workers and utility officials began to assess the extent of the
damage, it became apparent that it would be some time before electricity could be restored
to thousands of customers.
AEP, the electric supplier for Vanceburg Electric, estimated by late Monday more than
120,000 customers were without electric. That estimate had improved to about 60,000 by
Fleming Mason Energy summoned crews from co-ops in areas not affected by the storm.
Vanceburg Electric called in crews from an electrical contractor in Lexington. Alltel also
called in extra help to try to restore services as quickly as possible.
At some points, crews clearing electric line rights-of-way and roadways called off
their efforts because of the danger and the futility of clearing a stretch only to have
that same stretch covered again by the falling, ice-covered limbs.
Area resident increasingly called on police and fire departments for assistance. 911
service was disrupted in Lewis County and locations where telephone systems are operated
by electric were unable to make or received telephone calls.
Emergency two-way radio communications were interrupted Monday morning when a
propane-powered generator at the WKKS-FM tower site ran out of fuel.
Getting the large tanks of propane to the remote site required the assistance of a
Division of Forestry bulldozer, chainsaws, a group of determined people and some creative
thinking in obtaining four tanks of propane, enough to run the generator for 48 hours.
By operating on a gasoline-powered generator at the WKKS studio location on Fairlane
Drive and with the propane-powered generator at the tower site, the radio station began a
schedule of intermittent operations Sunday evening to conserve propane at the tower site.
The station will operate on that schedule until electricity is restored to the tower
site. Local officials provide updated information concerning the current situations during
each of those broadcasts.
|Daily trips have to be made to the site to
switch out the empty tanks. Four more tanks were delivered to the site Wednesday with the
assistance of the National Guard troops called in to help with the county's emergency.
Dennis Brown/Lewis County Herald
Ice was evident early Sunday in all areas around Lewis
County. Ice buildup was much heavier in higher elevations and was reported to be up to
three inches thick on power lines on the eastern edge of the Lewis County.
Without electricity, residents turned to kerosene heaters to keep warm. However,
without electricity, filling stations were unable to pump kerosene or gasoline. Several
people traveled several miles over the ice and snow covered roadways to stock up on
kerosene for the heaters and gasoline for generators.
Fleming Mason Energy workers were able to restore power for a couple of hours Sunday
evening along their main line stretching to Vanceburg allowing people a brief opportunity
to line up at the filling stations and grocery stores where the power was on.
By Tuesday some filling stations around Lewis County had rigged up generators and were
able to operate on a limited basis. Fleming Mason Energy was again able to restore power
along the main line and had begun to expand the area of restored power.
Dennis Brown/Lewis County Herald
An icy buildup was evident Tuesday on a chain link
fence at Lewis County High School. Electric service has since been returned to the school
and it is being utilized as a heat shelter for area residents who remain without
Vanceburg Utility workers discovered that a large metal tower supporting a 138,000 volt
line, near where the local utility hooks up with AEP at South Portsmouth, had twisted and
would have to be repaired or replaced. Crews ascended on the area and began to cleat a
route to the tower located in a particularly remote area. Two large specialized bulldozers
were taken to the tower and work was underway Wednesday to begin the repairs.
Superintendent Phil Kennedy said the ice was much thicker at the higher elevations and
said workers with the electrical contractor had measured a three-inch thick covering on
lines in that area.
Gary Hall, a superintendent with Davis H. Elliott Company, the electrical contractor,
said in his 25 years or working on utility systems following storms, he had not seem
damage as extensive as he has seen in this area. Hall said the 100-foot tall tower was 15
or 16 feet out of plumb.
Hall said his crews were called here from working in North Carolina and added the crews
would be working with Vanceburg Electric crews until power is restored to every Vanceburg
Efforts were hampered about 2:00 p.m. Wednesday when two communications towers at the
WPAY tower site collapsed and blocked an access road being utilized to get crews and
equipment to the area where workers needed to have access to the damaged electric line.
Customers on municipal water systems began to notice lower water pressure and some were
completely without water at some times. Without electricity, the utility companies can not
pump water into the water storage tanks. Generators were put into use on Tuesday on a
rotating basis to keep tanks filled.