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Heat wave persists as AEP continues restoring power

Jul. 06, 2012 @ 11:06 PM

HUNTINGTON -- A week after strong winds and rain roared through the region, thousands are still without power while they brace for one of the hottest days of the summer Saturday.

The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning for the second straight day for much of the region stretching north to eastern Ohio and western West Virginia from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday, as highs are expected to top 100 and heat indexes will make it feel closer to 110. It will cool a bit on Sunday with highs in the mid 90s and a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Daytime temperatures are expected to dip into the 80s by Monday.

Huntington hit a record of 100 Friday, besting the previous record of 98 set in 1999. That was rough news for some 200,000 West Virginians who are waiting yet another day for power to be restored.

The extent of work still to be done is evident as more than 250 out-of-state utility workers brought in by American Electric Power are staying in three residence halls at Marshall University through Sunday. The main campus in Huntington only lost power for a day but did sustain about $95,000 in damage, including $35,000 to the roof and HVAC system at Old Main. Several other roofs also sustained wind damage.

Bill Stickel, a safety engineer with L.E. Myers Co. out of Iowa, said his crew of about 30 were among those who were supposed to stay at Marshall, but accommodations opened up in Hurricane. Still, he said it was a nice gesture, especially since AEP officials were scrambling Friday morning to find places for out-of-state workers to stay. Marshall officials were contacted, and they said they had the resources to host people for the weekend.

"Our Huntington campus has been fortunate to have power throughout this week, so President Kopp has offered our facilities and any assistance we can give to the state and local emergency services," said Karen Kirtley, senior vice president for administration.

Ninety-degree heat and storms all week have slowed efforts to restore electricity since the powerful storm that tore across the state June 29 knocked more than 680,000 households off the grid.

AEP had hoped to have power restored to customers in Greenbrier, McDowell, Mercer, Monroe, Putnam and Summers counties last night, with Boone, Cabell, Jackson, Lincoln, Mason, Mingo and Wayne counties expected to be back to full strength by Saturday night. Remaining counties without power are expected to be restored by Sunday night.

Power popped on early Friday morning at Robin Workman's home in Cabin Creek, Kanawha County. But with the weekend forecast, she was not hopeful it would stay on, so she said she is keeping the generator and gas cans handy just in case.

"My sister-in-law got power the other night and then lost it again. They didn't even have it 24 hours," she said, "so no, I'm not that confident."

Workman lives with her husband, three sons, daughter-in-law and grandson, but since the power failed, they've all moved into a single room in her mother-in-law's home next door. They connected fans to the generator, laid mattresses on the family room floor and tried to stay comfortable.

Workman's main concern was the same one she'd had all week: Ice. She needed it to keep her mother-in-law's insulin chilled, and she wanted it to keep cold drinks on hand for power crews in the area.

"If the guys are out here working," she said, "at least we can say, 'Hey, here's something cold to drink."'

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin traveled through several counties Friday afternoon to visit with emergency management officials, while hundreds of Red Cross disaster workers provided shelter, food and help to cooling centers. Nearly 20 emergency vehicles and four mobile kitchens were delivering food and water in the affected areas, the Red Cross said.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Health and Human Resources said it would offer replacement benefits to food stamp users who lost food during the outages. Recipients can apply for replacement benefits through local DHHR offices. The deadline is Monday, but the DHHR says that could be extended with federal government approval.

Frontier Communications was part of the restoration effort, too, bringing in 40 out-of-state workers to help restore telecommunications services.

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