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W.Va governor checks in with first responders about Eastern Panhandle storm damage

July 01, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Other than power outages that hit nearly half the homes and businesses in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, there were only a few reports of major structural damage from Friday night’s thunderstorm, area emergency first responders told Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin here Sunday afternoon.

Tomblin, along with James Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, and Jimmy Gianato, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for West Virginia, were on a six-county tour of the state to view damage and talk to the people who were first in line to handle emergencies created by the storm.

Tomblin met with officials from both counties at the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard.

The directors of Homeland Security and Emergency Management agencies in Berkeley and Jefferson counties told the governor that as many as 48 percent of property owners were without electricity shortly after the storm, which was billed as a “severe thunderstorm event.”

Thousands of Panhandle residents were still without power Sunday afternoon, emergency service officials told Tomblin. They projected that it would take until midweek to repair all the damage.

Tomblin said 53 of West Virginia’s 55 counties had power outages.

“We’re used to dealing with floods and snowstorms. They’re regional, but this storm stretched end to end across the state,” he said.

He said smaller, more rural, counties often only have one or two grocery stores.

“People are worried about how they will get their food,” he said.

Sheri Hoff, director of attendance for Jefferson County Schools, said more than $40,000 worth of food was ruined when the power went off and the compressors in a storage unit eventually burned out. The food was supposed to feed students in the district’s summer school program, she said.

The power outages are having consequences beyond the loss of air conditioning in one of the worst heat waves on record. Local officials said it affects municipal public water systems, like the one in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., which wasn’t expected to be operational again until Sunday afternoon. Private wells can’t be pumped for water without electricity.

Tomblin talked about motorists becoming stranded on the interstates because gas stations couldn’t pump gas without electricity.

Steve Allen, director of the Berkeley County Office of Emergency Services, showed the governor a video of the storm damage in that county. It showed street after street with downed trees, branches and power lines, and what was left of the roof on the three-story building of the former Union Sales Dodge dealership in Martinsburg. The entire roof flew off and landed on nearby railroad tracks. What was left of it after that was obliterated by a passing train.

Jefferson County Commissioner Dale Manuel told Tomblin that most of the former Hunter House, the commissioners’ administration building on the corner of Washington and Samuel streets, blew off.

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