CHARLESTON (AP) — President Barack Obama issued an emergency declaration for West Virginia on Saturday following violent storms that downed trees and power lines across the state, leaving more than 680,000 without electricity as temperatures in the 90s continued.
The emergency declaration authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide help and coordinate relief efforts.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency early Saturday morning after the storms swept across the state Friday night.
Tomblin said 53 of the state’s 55 counties had outages, the most extensive in recent history.
“Those winds were so strong and over such a wide area,” the governor said Saturday afternoon at a news conference in Charleston. “It’s going to take several days to get power back on.”
Cooling shelters were set up across the state for residents without electricity who needed refuge from the heat. The Department of Health and Human Resources was assessing nursing homes and hospitals to determine whether any evacuations were necessary.
Gasoline was scarce across the state, due not to a shortage but to power outages taking pumps out of service. Long lines of vehicles queued up at businesses with working pumps and snaked into nearby streets.
Steve Anderson of Cross Lanes and his family waited in a line at a convenience store near the state Capitol to fill up their vehicle’s gas tank before setting out on a vacation trip to Nags Head, N.C. It was the third place they had visited in their search for fuel.
“At the previous gas station, the tank ran out. The person in front of us got gas and we pulled up and they shut off the pump,” Anderson said.
The governor asked West Virginians to look out for each other until electricity is restored. He said residents should check on other people, particularly the elderly, to make sure they are all right.
Millions across the mid-Atlantic region sweltered Saturday in the aftermath of the violent storms that pummeled the eastern U.S. with high winds and downed trees, killing at least 13 people and leaving 3 million without power during a triple-digit heat wave.
Power officials said the outages wouldn’t be repaired for several days to a week, likening the damage to a serious hurricane. The storm did damage from Indiana to New Jersey, although the bulk of it was in West Virginia, Washington and suburban Virginia and Maryland. At least six of the dead were killed in Virginia, including a 90-year-old woman asleep in bed when a tree slammed into her home. Two young cousins in New Jersey were killed when a tree fell on their tent while camping. Two were killed in Maryland, one in Ohio, one in Kentucky and one in Washington.
Utility officials said it could take at least several days to restore power to all customers because of the sheer magnitude of the outages and the destruction. Winds and toppled trees brought down entire power lines, and debris has to be cleared from power stations and other structures. All of that takes time and can’t be accomplished with the flip of a switch.
Tomblin is asking West Virginians to look out for each other until electricity is restored. He said residents should check on other people, particularly the elderly, to make sure they are all right.