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Tomblin to seek federal aid as relief efforts continue

By From staff and wire reports

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin plans to ask President Barack Obama for a federal disaster declaration to help residents and businesses in the hardest-hit areas of the state recover from Superstorm Sandy.

Tomblin said Thursday he'll seek both public and individual assistance.

Damage assessments are continuing following a storm that buried large portions of West Virginia under as much as three feet of snow. The intense weather left trees lying over power lines and on roads, while nearly a dozen roofs collapsed under the weight of accumulated snow.

As of Thursday morning the West Virginia National Guard had 22 liaison teams helping at emergency operations centers across the state. Another 35 teams are out assessing the needs of people in those communities, according to a news release.

Teams charged with clean up efforts have been deployed to Nicholas, Tucker and Preston counties. Three chainsaw crews were sent to Webster County, and three search and extraction teams were sent to Kingwood, Elkins and Summersville in response to roof collapses.

Meanwhile, utility crews continued to work Thursday to restore power to 148,000 customers in West Virginia.

Appalachian Power says it has about 68,000 outages, including 13,500 in Kanawha County.

Appalachian Power spokesman Phil Moye says service is expected to be restored by Sunday night in some other areas, including Charleston and Madison. Service should be restored by Friday night in Beckley, Bluefield, Hamlin, Hico, Huntington, Logan, Pineville, Point Pleasant, Ripley, Wayne, Welch and Williamson.

FirstEnergy's website says Thursday morning more than 80,000 customers of Mon Power and Potomac Edison are still without electricity. A majority of its customers in Barbour, Braxton, Clay, Nicholas, Preston, Randolph, Tucker, Upshur and Webster counties had no power. Preston County had the most outages at 13,400.

A Mon Power spokesman had no estimate on when power would be restored.

Those outages have left many students out of school for an entire week. More than 20 counties canceled classes for some or all schools Thursday, with schools already closed for Friday in Webster County.

Road conditions also play a factor in keeping children home. About 33 roads remained closed Thursday morning, including 19 in Kanawha County.

A highways official says 40 percent of the roads in Nicholas County remain closed because of downed trees and snow from superstorm Sandy.

State Department of Transportation Acting District Engineer Steve Cole in Lewisburg said Thursday morning that 80 employees were clearing roads in the county, where snows drifts of up to 5 feet have been reported and numerous roofs have collapsed.

Cole says much progress on the roads was made Wednesday night, and he hopes to have all Nicholas County roads open by Thursday night.

He says crews were hampered earlier in the week by falling trees that clogged roads that had just been cleared.

U.S. Route 250 in Barbour and Randolph counties just reopened Thursday afternoon.

People still without power can head to local warming stations. As of 10:45 Thursday morning 65 shelters in 27 counties remained open. Nicholas, Preston, Randolph and Raleigh counties -- some of the worst hit in the state -- had the most shelters.

Two organizations are looking for volunteers to help with disaster relief efforts in Nicholas County. Catholic Charities is working with West Virginia Volunteers Active in Disasters to identify and coordinate efforts.

Catholic Charities' West Virginia chapter says there's a critical need for volunteers, supplies and snow removal equipment in the county.

Volunteers can contact state disaster coordinator Kristen Harrison at 304-952-1852.


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