CHARLESTON, W.Va. - More than two dozen members of the West Virginia National Guard stared at monitors and swilled coffee Wednesday morning as they helped coordinate storm relief efforts from the Joint Operations Center at the Coonskin Armory Complex in Charleston.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin came to the center to video teleconference briefings from emergency managers in counties hit hardest by the snowstorm brought to the state in large part by Hurricane Sandy. Thousands remained without power overnight, with river levels rising and roofs collapsing in parts of the state where it snowed in the neighborhood of 3 feet.
Adj. Gen. James Hoyer, leader of the West Virginia National Guard, sat with Tomblin and state Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato during these briefings. Hoyer said 250 Guard members are deployed throughout the state, and that will increase to 350 if the need arises.
Considering the damage and help West Virginians needed after the surprise June derecho, Tomlin said advanced warning of this snowstorm definitely helped responders get ready.
"I think it could have been a whole lot worse," Tomblin said, adding his thanks for local emergency responders and the National Guard.
"We did have enough time where we were able to pre-position assets across the state," Tomblin said.
The governor, Hoyer and Gianato heard three briefings Wednesday morning from emergency management personnel in the city of Martinsburg as well as Grant, Hardy and Preston counties. The most severe damage was reported from Grant and Preston counties; an emergency manager in Grant County said the Mt. Storm Power Station was completely offline.
The plant can produce enough energy in one hour to run 160 homes for a year, according to the Dominion company's website.
In Preston County about 78 percent of residents still did not have power Wednesday morning, an emergency management official said. Firefighters and other responders worked all night clearing roads of tree debris, but the manager said more trees were falling all the time.
Tomblin and Hoyer said downed trees were a problem across the state. National Guard teams are out cutting trees where they can, and FEMA logging teams have been requested.
The governor was slated to hear updates from Elkins, Buckhannon and Lewisburg at the Joint Operations Center. Later Wednesday he was scheduled to visit an elementary school in Flatwoods, the Nicholas County Armory and emergency operations centers in Fayette and Raleigh counties.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin was slated to join him on the visits.