By MELINDA WILLIAMS
More than 120,000 Appalachian Power Co. customers in Virginia, including over 8,000 in Pulaski County, could be without power for several days after as much as nine inches of heavy, wet snow downed trees onto power lines and even a few homes.
Outages peaked Friday morning with more than 130,000 customers in APCo’s full territory (Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee) without power. A Friday morning press release from the power company indicated damage was most severe in Virginia, with 121,000 customers affected.
“Damage assessment is today’s top priority, but poor road conditions will likely hamper efforts,” the release stated.
Local spokesman Todd Burns said assessments are being made using helicopter, vehicle, and foot patrol. While the damage is being assessed, he said, line workers are clearing known safety hazards and working to repair outages affecting critical infrastructure or large numbers of customers.
Phil Wright, vice president of distribution operations for APCo, said, “Until assessors can provide a clearer picture of the amount of damage caused by the storm, we are unable to provide specific restoration estimates with any degree of accuracy in most areas. It is clear, however, this is a multi-day restoration effort.”
As of 2 p.m. Friday, almost 41 percent, or 7,803, of APCo’s customers in Pulaski County were without power. In Virginia, nearly 98,000 were without power and nearly 109,000 were out in all three states served by the company.
The release points out that restoration is handled according to priority, with essential public safety facilities having top priority. Repairs then shift to damages that affect the highest number of customers. Then, crews focus on small clusters of customers, followed by individual homes and businesses.
More than 1,400 line workers and 250 damage assessors were brought in from outside APCo’s service area to assist the 1,600 locally based employees and contractors.
State of Emergency declared
Pulaski County Emergency Services Director Josh Tolbert declared a local state of emergency at 5:30 Thursday evening, which will need to be ratified by Pulaski County Board of Supervisors.
Assistant Pulaski County Administrator Robert Hiss said the state of emergency serves as “a public declaration that our local response resources are operating at their max and may be overwhelmed as a result of the disaster.” It also “allows us to request mutual aide assistance from the state or other area resources (saw teams, shelter personnel, equipment needs, etc.)” and “it allows us to be potentially eligible for any state or federal funds if a larger (state or federal) disaster is declared.”
Shelter opened for county residents
A shelter was opening at Pulaski Elementary School at 3 p.m. Friday for those without power to heat their homes. Hiss said the shelter, a joint venture of the county and Red Cross, will be open “overnight as the need exists.”
Roads got slick fast
Once the rain turned to sleet around 1:30 Thursday afternoon, it didn’t take long for motorists to start sliding off county roads.
According to public safety radio traffic, nearly a dozen wrecks were reported throughout Pulaski County in the first two hours, including a number of vehicle rollovers on Interstate 81 and Route 100.
The Wytheville Division of Virginia State Police (VSP), which includes Pulaski County, received reports of 186 traffic crashes, 253 disabled vehicles and 933 total calls for service from 3 p.m. Thursday to 6 a.m. Friday.
Statewide, VSP fielded 3,017 calls for service, but spokeswoman Corinne Geller said, “The busiest regions for State Police have been in the Southwest Virginia and the New River Valley regions.”
Interstate 77 in Bland County caused significant problems for troopers and motorists alike. Geller said heavy snow, downed trees, and crashed or disabled vehicles made travel conditions difficult on the interstate.
She noted troopers and Virginia Department of Transportation spent much of the night trying to clear the lanes of disabled and crashed vehicles.
PSA delays Friday garbage pickup
Due to the winter storm, Pulaski County Public Service Authority officials decided not to provide regular Friday garbage pickup.
Commercial garbage pickup will take place Saturday and residential pickup will take place Monday. Any residential pickup not completed Monday will be picked up Tuesday.
Dublin Town Council postponed
Dublin Town Council was slated to hold its January meeting Thursday night, but the storm forced Dublin Municipal Building to close early and the meeting to be cancelled.
Town Manager Bill Parker said the town council meeting was postponed until Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m.