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'It's about basic survival' in Southern West Virginia

PAX, W.Va. - Donnie Williams and four other men stood in 18 inches of snow, wrestling with a tree trunk 18 inches thick.

That tree, felled by the snow and winds that tore through Appalachia Monday night and Tuesday morning when superstorm Sandy met land, was across a power line and into the road, cutting off residents of this dead-end road in the small Fayette County town of Pax.

The five men, neighbors, had been at it with chainsaws for hours Tuesday morning and had just started to see progress around 11 a.m.

Someone murmured something about needing to complain to the fire department about the tree.

"I just need to get out of this hollow," Williams said.

Williams wanted to find a place with electricity for himself, his wife and their two kids to spend the night.

"You can't have little ones in a house without power," he said.

The night before, when Williams left work at 2 a.m. and came home to find the road impassable, he had parked at the interstate and walked the two miles home.

"You couldn't see it, but you could hear it - there were trees coming down left and right," he said. "It was weird, I'll tell you that."

In Fayetteville, which saw at least 15 inches of snow, every business appeared to be closed except the Vandalian restaurant, which was serving a full menu despite the lack of heat in the dining room.

It will stay that way despite the power outage.

A generator is keeping the refrigerated food from spoiling.

"I've got to," owner Porter Jarrard said. "I have thousands and thousands of dollars tied up in that fridge."

He planned to camp out in the restaurant to keep the generator running and to guard against theft. He said he would sleep on the dining room floor.

"It's about basic survival," he said.

And if he can sell a few cups of coffee along the way, all the better. By noon Tuesday, despite the blizzard, a dozen customers had wandered in to talk about the snow and sip coffee.

Down the road, near Scarbro, Scott Armstrong spent his morning on a tractor, clearing his driveway of the pine trees that fell around midnight.

He wasn't worried about his property or his house, which lay only several feet from where the trees fell. But he said he needed to get to work.

Armstrong, 51, is a mechanic for the state Parkways Authority. He repairs state equipment - including snowplows.

"They're probably dying there without me today," he said. "And I don't have any way to contact them. I don't have power."

Beyond his house, Armstrong said, at least 20 downed trees were blocking the road between Oak Hill and Mossy. But he would have to let someone else worry about that.

Derrick Nichols was worrying about it. Down the road, he had finished clearing his own yard and had taken his chainsaw to the road "to help out."

He was no stranger to snow, he said, but had been surprised by the ferocity of the snowstorm so early in the season. And he said the snowfall was disconcertingly dense and wet.

"I've been shaking the trees and the snow won't even come off - it's like it's glued on there," he said.

"This is more snow than I've seen in years, and it's not behaving."

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.



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