Snow, rain pelt W.Va.; more severe weather on way
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than one-fifth of the state is without power, several major highways are closed and more severe weather is on the way the morning after the remnants of Hurricane Sandy hit West Virginia with full force.
Sandy, now classified as a post-tropical cyclone, will continue to bringing high winds, heavy rains and blizzard conditions to areas of the state today as it slowly moves across the northeastern United States.
Blizzard warnings are still in effect for the state's eastern mountain counties, including Raleigh, Fayette, Nicholas, Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties. Kanawha, Putnam, Lincoln, Clay Boone, Mingo Logan and Braxton counties are under a winter storm warning until today.
The storm has knocked out power to more than 265,000 households across the state -- and outage numbers are rising rapidly.
Shortly after noon Tuesday, Appalachian Power reported nearly 151,000 customers without power in the state -- over 34 percent of the company's West Virginia customer base.
Mon Power and Potomac Edison, which cover northern and eastern portions of the state, reported over 117,000 customers without power, about 23 percent of their total West Virginia customers.
The number of Mon Power and Potomac Edison outages seemed to level off by mid-morning. However, Appalachian Power's number of reported outages has steadily climbed each hour.
Appalachian Power reported more than 1,000 company and contract line assessors, along with over 200 damage assessors were out in field Tuesday. The company also said additional crews were expected to arrive from Ohio later today.
Because of the severity of the storm, Mon Power parent company First Energy said in a press release that customers may experience "lengthy outages" as storm damage continues over the next 24 hours.
In it's latest storm update, Appalachian Power also said restoration estimates are still unclear.
"Until assessors can provide a clearer picture of the amount of damage caused by the storm, we are unable to provide specific restoration estimates with any degree of accuracy," the company said. "However, restoration is expected to take several days."
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who declared a state of emergency Monday, has asked that people stay off state roads unless it is an absolute necessity today. Only essential state employees were to report to work Tuesday, non-essential employees were being told to stay home and stay off roads.
Tomblin also requested federal aid in response to the storm. President Barack Obama also signed an emergency declaration late Monday authorizing FEMA to provide assistance to state and local response efforts.
Tomblin administration spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin said 150 members of the West Virginia National Guard have been deployed to provide assistance in hard-hit areas. She said more Guard members would be called up later today.
The state has set up several emergency shelters in Jefferson, Berkeley, Morgan, Preston, Monongalia and Nicholas counties. The street addresses for those locations can be found on the governor's website, http://www.governor.wv.gov/pages/shelters.aspx.
The Department of Transportation reported several major road closures Tuesday morning.
Officials shut down a 45-mile section of Interstate 68 in Maryland and West Virginia around midnight. Highway crews were using snow plows to clear a path to several stranded vehicles along I-68 Tuesday morning.
Maryland officials reopened the westbound lanes around 11 a.m., however crews were still working to remove several tractor-trailers still blocking the eastbound lanes.
The West Virginia Department of Transportation announced the state's Welcome Center along eastbound I-68 is open, but does not have phone or internet access at this time.
State Welcome Centers are also open along Interstates 70, 79, 64 and 81. The westbound Welcome Centers along I-64 in White Sulphur Springs and I-69 in Hazelton are closed, however.
Portions of U.S. routes 219 and 250 in Randolph, Tucker and Barbour counties were closed Tuesday morning. Other state roads in Mercer and Tucker counties were closed because of downed power lines.
Transportation officials closed a portion of U.S. Route 19 from the Interstate 79 park and ride in Braxton County to Summersville to all vehicles that are not four-wheel drive around 11 a.m.
The travel restriction remains in effect until road crews can get the highway cleared and treated.
Snow and ice crews were plowing and treating roads Tuesday morning, though constant snowfall was making efforts difficult in some areas.
The Department of Transportation has received numerous reports of accidents on Interstates 77, 79 and 64 as a result of the storm.
Downed trees and power lines have caused various secondary road closures and delays in clearing roads in Putnam, Lincoln, Barbour, Braxton, Lewis, Upshur and Webster counties.
Division of Highways District 7 has requested additional equipment to clear trees and lines from roads in Barbour, Braxton, Gilmer, Lewis, Upshur and Webster counties.
Interstate lanes around Charleston were wet or slushy with ice and snow in spots as of 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Interstate 77 north of Charleston to the Ohio border was listed as having slush in both fast and slow lanes. Interstate 79 had snow in the fast and slow lanes beginning at Elkview north to Weston.
Some traffic signals around Charleston were without power Tuesday morning. Motorists are to treat these intersections as 4-way stops until power is restored.
Both lanes of the West Virginia Turnpike from Ghent to Princeton are listed as "snow covered." Turnpike officials have urged motorists to use extreme caution in this area.
Gates along the Turnpike have been opened to allow struggling motorists the ability to turn around to get off the Turnpike.
In addition to the snow around Charleston and east of I-79, highways crews have been clearing culverts along northern and western state roads to help avoid flooding problems.
Officials said as rains progress through tomorrow, the chance of rock slides and road flooding will increase in rain-soaked areas.
Goodwin said swift water rescue teams are in place in the Eastern Panhandle as flooding problems increase in that area. High water trucks have also been readied to respond to flooding problems.
The state Department of Transportation was continuing to update road conditions on their website, www.transportation.wv.gov/highways/traffic/pages/roadconditions.aspx.
Most counties closed schools Tuesday, with just a handful of northern panhandle school systems still listing 2-hour delays early Tuesday morning
The National Weather Service expects the remnants of Sandy to continue to weaken today and begin moving away from the area Wednesday.
The governor's office is encouraging state residents to check on neighbors and relatives as the storm continues today to make sure they are okay and have everything they need to weather the storm.
In separate statements Tuesday, Senators Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., said they will work with state and federal leaders to keep emergency resources flowing to the state.
Like the governor's office, they encouraged residents to stay safe and also check in on those around them.
"West Virginians take care of each other," Rockefeller said. "Check in on family, neighbors and friends. Lend a hand where you can. Be safe, and stay off the roads unless it is absolutely necessary.
"And please keep in your thoughts and prayers our National Guard members, firefighters, police and other first responders who are sacrificing their time and energy helping West Virginians across the state," Rockefeller said.
"As we continue to weather this storm and recover from its effects, I know the people of West Virginia will watch out for their neighbors in the aftermath," Manchin said. "I continue to urge everyone to listen to the directions of local authorities and to stay safe."
The state Department of Health and Human Resources also released a statement Tuesday warning residents against indoor use of gasoline generators, gas or charcoal grills and camp stoves during power outages.
"Never use generators and charcoal or gas grills inside your home, in basements, in garages, or other enclosed spaces due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning," said Barb Taylor, director of the department's Office of Environmental Health Services.
Taylor also said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also say the appliances should not be operated near open windows or window air conditioners because they can allow fumes to enter the home.