West Virginia blanketed by 'superstorm' snow


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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The brunt of Hurricane Sandy's remnants fell on West Virginia as wet, heavy snow, stranding residents and motorists so completely that National Guard troops delivered Meals Ready to Eat to drivers trapped on Interstate 68.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin had declared a pre-emptive state of emergency on Monday in order to have troops in position for the storm. National Guard Maj. Gen. James Hoyer said he expected them to help with statewide relief work through the weekend and then continue to other states that were harder hit. President Barack Obama said Tuesday that West Virginia was under a federal emergency declaration and eligible for federal assistance.

By Tuesday evening, the National Weather Service said that light snow had begun to taper out of northern West Virginia. The agency reported 2 to 3 inches in lower elevations near Morgantown, a little more than a foot in higher elevations and up to 2 feet in Tucker County. However, officials on the ground in West Virginia consistently reported greater depths, including more than 3 feet in Preston County.

Meteorologist John Darnley predicted that the snow in those areas would continue overnight and taper off in the morning.

In the state's eastern panhandle, guardsmen worked alongside local emergency officials to rescue residents stranded by floodwaters, while in much of the state, they rescued those trapped by high snow or fallen trees.

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"It runs a pretty broad spectrum. We were dealing with high water, heavy snow and wind," Gen. Hoyer said.

I-68 was among the worst areas in the northern part of the state after both snow and jack-knifed tractor trailers made it impassable late Monday night. The interstate remained closed in West Virginia until about 2 p.m. Tuesday.

"We used Humvees to run I-68 and check on stranded motorists, and we did provide food to some of them," Gen. Hoyer said. "We had four people who asked to be evacuated to a shelter to ride out the storm, and then go back to get their vehicles later. We had the transportation to assist them."

Much of the state's National Guard is run out of Camp Dawson in Kingwood, Preston County, right in one of the hardest-hit areas. Guard troops made sure the base stayed operational, but there was little call to rescue residents of the vast wooded and mountainous county southeast of Morgantown.

"Preston countians tend to deal with a lot of weather like this on a regular basis, so they don't need as much support as some other places might," Gen. Hoyer said.

That describes Jim Sconyers, retired teacher and environmental activist from Cranesville. Although 97 percent of the county was without electricity Tuesday, his lights and heat were on.

"I have solar and wind power. I'm off the grid," he said. "I have a wood burner that's going."

He lives on an isolated road and didn't expect to see a snow plow for days.

"Last night I sat out on my porch and could listen to the trees breaking in the woods down below my house," he said. By 11 a.m. Tuesday, about two feet of snow was blowing into even higher drifts, and there was no sign of it stopping. He needed to go out for more firewood "but the snow is about 2 1/2 feet up my sliding glass door and I don't want to open it and have the drift come tumbling in," he said.

Preston County had declared its own state of emergency, opening shelters in Bruceton Mills and in Kingwood. The county was almost entirely without electricity, and officials expected it to be at least a week to 10 days before it is fully restored.

"We have power lines down in every community. We probably have an average of between 1 foot and 3 1/2 feet of snow," said Kathy Mace, the county administrator, who was assisting at the Preston County Office of Emergency Management. "It's still snowing heavy, wet snow. Trees fall as fast as they can clear them. Power outages and cell outages are widespread."

Snowplows were having great difficulty clearing the roads because there are so many fallen trees, she said.

Every one of West Virginia's 55 counties felt some impact from Sandy, and in all but a handful that meant snow, said Leslie Fitzwater, public information specialist for the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Morgantown got off lightly, with about 3 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service.

It caused some cars to go off the road Tuesday morning, but no one was seriously injured, said Pamela Feathers, assistant director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for Monongalia County.

West Virginia University remained open, although some students, staff and faculty never made it to campus.

"There was some consideration to canceling classes, but officials in consultation with others decided to remain operational. We have advised professors to be lenient and understanding" with students who don't arrive, said university spokesman John Bolt.

Jodie Jackson, the director of research for WVU's Office for Rural Health, was among the staffers who couldn't get into the office. She and her husband, a WVU economics professor, live in Monongalia County near the Preston County line.

"We have no electricity, it went off around 2:30 a.m.," she said, nearly 12 hours later. "We both have 4-wheel-drive with a lot of clearance. But when I attempted to get out and saw how bad the roads were, I decided to stay."

It continued to snow through the afternoon, even though the temperature registered above freezing.

She watched long icicles form along her roof line.

"As long as we're in the living room in front of the fireplace, it's comfortable," she said.

weather - mobilehome - state

Ann Rodgers: arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416. First Published October 31, 2012 4:00 AM


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