Berkeley County power outages highlight need for more generators

FirstEnergy hopes to restore power to all customers by 5 p.m. Friday

July 06, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Some Berkeley County emergency dispatchers found themselves working by candlelight and portable radios shortly after a line of deadly storms struck last Friday, county officials were told Thursday.

A backup generator to power central dispatching operations had not started, and dispatchers were using paper to write down information, according to Stephen S. Allen, the director of Berkeley County’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

While more than 400 Potomac Edison customers in the Eastern Panhandle were still without electricity Thursday night, more than 30,000 lost power in Berkeley County alone Friday night after the storm downed trees, power lines and utility poles that carried them, Allen told the Berkeley County Council.

In addition to crippling the county’s dispatch center, the storm knocked out power at Martinsburg City Hall, which diverted the city’s police dispatch center calls to the county.


Bill Kearns, administrator of the Berkeley County Health Department, told the council Thursday that he took vaccines that needed to stay refrigerated to his house because the department was without adequate backup generator power.

As a result of the extended outage, officials also discovered there is no continuity of operations plan in place for funeral homes, which needed ice to keep bodies chilled, Kearns said.

Allen said City Hospital also needed generator power because the medical center’s chiller system was not connected to a backup power source, and temperatures on the upper floors of the building reached the upper 80s before power was restored.

Overall, the storm highlighted a need for more generators to ensure continuity of operations, Allen said after the meeting. 

As of 2:33 p.m. Friday, there were 109 customers without power in Berkeley County, 71 in Jefferson County and 70 in Morgan County, according to the FirstEnergy Storm Center website. FirstEnergy is Potomac Edison’s parent company.

A statement on the website Friday morning said power was expected to be restored to the remaining customers in the Berkeley Springs and Martinsburg areas by 5 p.m. Friday. No estimate was given for Jefferson County.

The outages remain as an early summer heat wave continues to grip the Tri-State area. High temperatures on Friday were expected to approach 100 degrees, with the heat index — a combination of air temperature and humidity — in the 105 to 110 degree range, according to the National Weather Service.

More than 2 million people at one point lost power from severe storms that converged on Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia,Washington, D.C., Indiana, Ohio and New Jersey. They packed winds topping 70 mph in some places, uprooting trees and damaging homes.

At least 27 people have been killed in the storms or their aftermath since Friday, not including deaths from heat-related causes. 

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