Torrential storm closes schools, offices

opens shelters in Eastern Panhandle

October 29, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • A large portion of a tree broke off Monday afternoon during Hurricane Sandy, blocking the drive-through window of the Taco Bell in Martinsburg, W.Va.
Photo by Matthew Umstead

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Wind gusts intensified and rain fell harder across the Eastern Panhandle on Monday afternoon, prompting government and businesses to close early and emergency officials to ramp up operations for Hurricane Sandy.

Shelters across Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties were opened by the end of the business day Monday by The American Red Cross.

By 8 p.m., more than 7,000 Potomac Edison customers in the Eastern Panhandle were without power as emergency officials received multiple reports of downed trees and power lines across the region.

A large piece of a tree that fell across the drive-through of the Taco Bell off Foxcroft Avenue in Martinsburg before 5 p.m. effectively closed that part of the restaurant’s food service, prompting motorists to turn around.

Martinsburg High School at 701 S. Queen St., which like other area schools was closed due to the storm, was opened Monday afternoon to shelter people affected by the storm. Food was being provided by the Salvation Army.

Berkeley County officials announced the opening of a storm-shelter hotline (304-267-5398) and grappled with how to transport people who might need shelter.

A shelter also was opened at the Jefferson County Senior Center at 103 W. 5th St. in Ranson, W.Va., the old War Memorial Hospital at 109 War Memorial Drive in Berkeley Springs, and the South Morgan County Volunteer Fire Department station at 10166 Winchester Grade Road, officials said. Individuals with questions about the shelters can contact the Eastern Panhandle chapter of the Red Cross at 304-725-5015.

Given forecasts of heavy rainfall, flooding in low lying areas is anticipated in typically vulnerable areas, including along Douglas Grove Road, Henshaw Road, Baxter Road, U.S. 11 at the Berkeley Station 7-11, Big Springs curve, Light-Sperows Bridge, East John Street at Roach Oil and West Moler Avenue, according to Stephen S. Allen, director of Berkeley County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Berkeley County closed county administrative offices by 2:30 p.m., and state judicial offices also closed at that time, but county election officials continued to offer residents the opportunity to cast their ballots early in the Nov. 6 general election until 5 p.m. as scheduled.

The Secretary of State’s office after speaking with Morgan County officials announced Monday afternoon that early voting would be suspended for Morgan County Tuesday only, deeming the situation as being too dangerous for people to risk their safety.

Decisions on whether to curtail early voting were being made on a county-by-county basis and independent of decisions by the county’s to close other offices, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson County public school officials decided well before the end of the day Monday to remain closed again Tuesday due to the storm. Shepherd University closed at noon Monday and said it also would remain closed Tuesday.

The shelter in Martinsburg High School is open for anyone who is experiencing issues relating to Hurricane Sandy, including power outages and/or possible flooding issues due to the heavy rainfall, Allen said in a news release.

Cots are provided, but other essential items including pillows, blankets and personal hygiene items should be brought by residents to the shelter in the school’s cafeteria. Pets are allowed at the shelter, but they must be caged in pet carriers, according to Allen.

The shelter can be accessed by entering the school’s main entrance. 

In Berkeley County Circuit Court Monday, the storm halted a bond modification and arraignment hearing for Autumn T. Blaine, who was indicted this month on one count of felony murder and delivery of heroin in the overdose death of Paul Dwayne Burcham, 32, according to Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely.

An agreement that would allow Blaine to receive long-term treatment for her drug use was being considered by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gray Silver III when the court closed early by the circuit’s chief judge. Hearings for three other cases in front of Silver also were postponed, according to Games-Neely.

Jefferson County

Patsy Noland, president of the Jefferson County Commission, said Monday that all county offices closed at noon with the exception of the first floor of the Jefferson County Courthouse, which will remain open for early voting this week.

“We’ll be playing it by ear on whether or not county offices will open Tuesday,” Noland said.

Pam McNally, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County Emergency Operations Center, said the West Virginia Division of Highways, the county’s fire departments and Jefferson Memorial Hospital have increased staff in preparation for the storm.

County residents can find information on the storm’s progress and aftermath at 304-728-6345, McNally said.

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