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County hard-hit by Superstorm Sandy up and ready for election

SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. - Audra Deitz and her staff were just finishing up the regular pre-Election Day preparations Monday - readying supplies so they could be delivered to each precinct - when a harried citizen rushed in to tell her yet another polling place was in jeopardy.

Deitz, the Nicholas County clerk, jumped into her car and zipped over to Summersville Elementary school to inspect damage. Also there were Superintendent Beverly Kingery and a crew of engineers.

The roof at the school, which serves as a polling place for two precincts, was sagging under the pressure of melting snow and was dangerously close to collapsing. As much as three feet fell in parts of the county last week.

It hardly shocked Deitz. Eight roofs already had collapsed in Nicholas County.

The sag was visible from the outside. Inside, the roof was threatening to burst through the ceiling tiles over one classroom.

This was bad news for Kingery and the school district (the good news was they had decided against having school Monday, despite Kingery's initial push to get the children back in class).

"We're trying to get them back to school as soon as we can," the superintendent said. "But we keep having issues."

Deitz was unperturbed. They still would be able to use the building for the election, since the sagging is in an older wing of the building and voting would take place in a newer addition.

Deitz spent last week worrying about Election Day in Nicholas County. She kept tally of the polling places that were without power, made calls to the Secretary of State's Office and kept in contact with the Office of Emergency Services on snow-clearing efforts.

Deitz had to deal with the fallout of the snowstorm caused by Superstorm Sandy last week. The snow threatened to further complicate the already complex ordeal of holding an election.  

But by Monday she was sure everything was OK.

The weather was warmer and much of the snow was melting off the main roads. She had secured a self-contained polling tent for the one precinct that still didn't have power Sunday, but its power was restored Monday morning, so she sent the supplies to a county that needed them.

She was even optimistic about voter turnout: 1,631 people voted early despite the weather.

"Thank God the storm happened last week and not this week," said Betty Griffin, a deputy clerk.

Not every county was as lucky as Nicholas.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant announced Monday five precincts in four counties would be relocated. All were in the northern part of the state.

And while Deitz spent much of last week worried about whether citizens would be able to make it to their local polling places, she was fairly sure the snow would have little effect on voters in her county.

She received a lot of calls Monday from citizens who were worried about the electricity at their precincts, but none seemed worried about making it there.

Shannon Bailes, who lives in Carl, was less certain that life could go on as usual in town, while the snow was still piled up in the rural areas.

"The main areas may be pretty much fine," she said. "But there's still a lot of snow on the back roads where a lot of people live."

Bailes has two children in elementary school and disagreed with the county's push to get them back in school so soon. She's worried both the buildings and the bus routes are still unsafe.

Jenny Walker, 59, has had power and road access at her home in Lookout since last week, but still voted early because she was worried about the country road to her polling place.

"It was looking really, very bad for several days," she said. "But I think we pulled out of it OK."

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


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