Power still on hold, flooding now on deck
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The remnants of Hurricane Sandy drifted northward Wednesday, leaving at least six dead and about a half million without power in West Virginia.
Thousands of West Virginians can expect to be without power through the weekend. Those living in the hard-hit higher elevations remain boxed in by snow and fallen trees.
Speaking during a tour in the disaster-stricken Northeast, President Barack Obama said his "main focus" included New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and West Virginia.
Those other states were rocked by wind and rain, but it was snow that hammered West Virginia's eastern mountains. The largest snowfall was reported in Nicholas County, which received about three feet near Richwood.
Officials in West Virginia began to turn their attention Wednesday to what happens when all that snow melts.
Floods are expected if the snow rapidly melts.
The snowfall in the state's hardest hit areas will produce 4-6 inches of water once it melts. There were widespread expectations, but no formal warnings for floods Wednesday.
Temperatures are expected to rise into the 40s and 50s by Saturday.
"It will be a pretty steady stream of water running into the rivers between now and then," said Jonathan Wolfe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
More showers are expected this weekend. A little storm system is expected to bring some scattered showers on Friday. Another may bring less than an inch Sunday, Wolfe said.
He said problems could be particularly acute if the snow did not melt by the time the showers came. In that scenario, melted snow and rain would run off at the same time.
As for the power outages, about a half million people were affected by homes without service Wednesday.
In Appalachian Power Co.'s territory in southern West Virginia, about 111,000 households and businesses were in the dark, down from 182,000 at lunchtime Tuesday.
Some areas - including Kanawha County, which had 23,000 customers without power Wednesday night - were not expected to be fully back on the grid until Sunday night.
In the northern part of the state, FirstEnergy said about 108,000 businesses and households were without power, including nearly all of its customers in the hard-hit mountains.
The company's outages included nearly 16,000 homes and businesses in Randolph, a county of fewer than 30,000 people; and 7,200 homes and businesses in Pocahontas County, home to only 8,700 people and Snowshoe ski resort.
In the northeastern United States, emergency crews were calling for aid from other states, but West Virginia officials urged caution before counties let first responders go because of the flooding potential at home.
"Right now we're not sending any assets out because we don't know what shape we're in," state homeland security official Herbert Lattimore Jr. told county emergency officials Wednesday evening.
Roads also remained impassable in parts of the state.
Rob Alsop, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's chief of staff, said road crews were focused on reopening roads in hard-hit counties like Nicholas, Tucker, Webster and Preston.
Parts of three major roads in Tucker County - Interstate 72, U.S. 219 and W.Va. 38 - were closed because of downed trees, the Department of Transportation reported Wednesday evening.
Government chain saw crews were trying to open roads and also were helping power companies gain access to downed poles, substations and transmissions lines.
The state Department of Health and Human Resources warned citizens to be cautious if using their own chain saws.
A roof collapsed at an apartment building in the Nicholas County town of Summersville, leaving 70 people homeless, MetroNews reported. Several other collapses have been reported in the county.
Other parts of the state seemed relatively normal Wednesday, creating an incongruent experience for some. It looked like just a wet fall day in downtown Charleston, though thousands remained without power in the city.
The storm disrupted political campaigns ahead of next Tuesday's election. Thousands without power couldn't be bombarded by TV ads, and the press corps turned its attention to the storm, although some candidates and political action committees continued to release ads and rail on in press releases and website posts.
Gov. Tomblin and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin took an official tour of several counties.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney posted a picture of him and his wife giving blood.
Alsop said the state wanted to make sure polling places had power in time for the election. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and her staff were attentively monitoring emergency conditions and helping to make some plans in case some polling places are still without power on Election Day.
The Legislature set aside about $10 million to deal with disasters in the budget year that started July 1 and continues through next June. Alsop said officials drew on the funds to help deal with the aftermath of the June 29 windstorm and will do so again this time.
"A lot of things we pay upfront and we get reimbursed from FEMA later on," he said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Both storms could hit customers' pockets later when power companies go to the Public Service Commission and ask for higher rates to recoup their storm-related costs.
"There's no question that at some point in time these costs will be part of the rate cases the power companies file," Alsop said.
Staff writer David Boucher contributed to this story.