Governor Visits Wetzel County, Offers Help
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin visited the Wetzel County Emergency Management Agency’s center in New Martinsville this afternoon with the primary reason of seeing what else the state could do to help assist Wetzel County residents in need.
WCEMA Director Ed Sapp told the governor that the county is still waiting on a shipment of ice from the state that was requested four days ago. Tomblin said that has been an issue across the state as nearly all of the state’s ice plants lost power at some point.
Currently a truck full of ice from Louisiana is on its way to the Mountain State to bring some relief. “We apologize for the ice, but there’s nothing more we can do.” In the meantime, Tomblin suggested that schools could possibly make ice to distribute to those in need.
He did note that 40 tractor trailer loads of water have been leaving the capital each day to help supply citizens with water. Sapp thanked him for that support, noting Wetzel County has received 15,000 gallons of the precious commodity. It has been, and is still, distributed through the county’s fire departments.
If anyone is in need of a meal, they are feeding people at the New Martinsville United Methodist Church or you can call the Wetzel County Emergency Management Agency at 304-455-6960. The Red Cross was to serve lunch and dinner at the Grandview VFD Thursday, but the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle did not arrive. Tomblin said that has been a common scenario across the state. “Because the storm was so massive, the Red Cross is having difficulty too,” noted Tomblin.
While the cooling station at the Lewis Wetzel Family Center is now closed, one has opened at the New Martinsville United Methodist Church on Howard Jeffers Drive. Thursday and Friday they are serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Also, they are allowing people to stay overnight if needed. Further, a shuttle service is available throughout the county by calling Wetzel County Senior Director Mary Ash at 304-455-3220 to schedule a ride.
The Department of Health and Human Resources is at the NMUMC giving vouchers to people who already received Food Stamps to help them replace certain foods lost during the power outages.
As of Thursday afternoon, the cooling station at the Pine Grove Volunteer Fire Department was without power due to a failed generator; they were working to rectify that problem.
The Adjutant General, West Virginia Joint Forces, Major General James A. Hoyer, was traveling with Tomblin across the state. He told those at the WCEMA that in his 31 years in the Army National Guard, this is the worst situation he has ever seen – and that includes the flood of 1985 that ravaged West Virginia.
He had never responded to a power outage to more than about 130,000 customers. It is estimated that 672,000 customers lost electricity after Friday’s derecho storm. Even Thursday afternoon, Mon Power was reporting 3,696 customers still without power, just in Wetzel County.
Tomblin said it has certainly been a learning experience. Through this they can learn how West Virginia can be better prepared. “There is no doubt we will be facing these kinds of situations again,” said Tomblin.
Sapp said he was very pleased that none of the water utilities in the county ever lost water. “For those PSDs to not lose water, I think that was pretty good,” said Sapp.
Keith Nelsen, manager of Wetzel County Public Service District No. 1, said their PSD’s situation was tentative at times, but, “We never lost water. We never got to a critical level, but we were at a level of great concern.”
When they needed a generator for the lift station at the base of Slim Chance Hill, the PSD contacted the WCEMA who got in touch with EQT. The gas company had an electrician bring a generator from Pennsylvania and hook it up so the water could continue to flow.
PSD No. 1 was never under a boil order, but they do still have a conservation order in effect until Friday.
The PSD No. 1 still has no power at its tanks and office, so they cannot perform their usual electronic monitoring. Nelsen says they have to perform those tasks “the old fashioned way” – by visual checks and by hand controls. This is certainly possible, but it was difficult even getting to their tanks. For three days crews cut and removed trees to gain access. Litman Excavating helped with an excavator.
Sapp also reports that Mon Power, a First Energy company, has been great to work with. They checked in every day-particularly about critical needs. “They did concentrate on some of those critical areas,” said Sapp of getting power to infrastructures and health care facilities.
Twenty critical patients were evacuated from the New Martinsville Care and Rehabilitation Center on Monday. Assistant State Fire Marshall Mike Barrick said that was performed in only one hour and 17 minutes. “There were no complaints,” said Barrick. “It’s the best evacuation I’ve ever participated in.”