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National Guard helps residents in hardest-hit areas

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - About 250 members of the West Virginia National Guard were expected to be working to help citizens deal with the effects of Hurricane Sandy by late Tuesday.

West Virginia Adj. Gen. James Hoyer said the citizen soldiers would be stationed in hard-hit counties to help restore power, check on stranded residents, deliver basic supplies and assess damage.

Hoyer said their tasks would depend on how the storm hit the various parts of the state.  

"In the Eastern Panhandle, we are primarily providing support to the counties related to high-water issues," Hoyer said. "We have some high-water vehicles, liaison teams and our health and wellness teams that work with local emergency directors.

"They may assess damage, check on individual citizens who are cut off from services or elderly people they know they need to check on," he said.  

"In Randolph, Pocahontas, Nicholas and the Beckley area, liaison teams are able to go out and assist county emergency directors, and they have a link back to state emergency services," Hoyer said.

Heavy snow was the biggest factor there.

"They are working with the highway folks and can go out and check on people, deliver food and water," he said.

The National Guard is also working hand-in-hand with utility companies to help in power restoration efforts, he said.

"A lot of the crews come in from out of state," he said. "They don't know the terrain or locations, and they may need assistance in removing debris to get a power company vehicle in.

"We started them working with the power companies to do restoration work on Tuesday, and we believe that will help us expedite getting power restored," Hoyer said.  

The West Virginia National Guard has 6,500 members. During a two-week period following the summer derecho, 750 were called in to help with recovery efforts.

"We have only a small number deployed overseas right now, so the bulk of our force is available should we need them."

While some work in the field, others help man the headquarters in Charleston and maintain communications with other units.

"Some of them are monitoring social media sites to see where people are saying they are having the most difficulty," Hoyer said.

Key to the guard efforts is the statewide microwave network system that enables headquarters to remain in touch with rural counties.  

"We're relying heavily on that right now because of so many lines being down," Hoyer said. "I've got a shelter at an armory in Braxton County and some folks in Elkins where the only contact we've got is through that system.

"I've got guardsmen with handheld radios out in the field," he said. "We sent crews down Interstate 68 when it was shut down to stop and check on motorists.

"When all other communication systems fail, we always have communications with that system," he said. "Being able to talk to people and understand their needs is crucial to our response."

Today, the National Guard will focus more on damage assessment, working with FEMA to determine where government assistance is most needed.

"We stay in close contact with the governor so he has the most up-to-date information and can make the best decisions," Hoyer said.

Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at cherylc@dailymail.com or 304-348-4832.


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