Virginia Bids to Restore Power, Clear Roads After Irene

August 30, 2011

Repair crews struggled Monday to bring life back to normal after Virginia's dance with Hurricane Irene, working to restore power to more than half a million people and clear roads of storm debris.

The effort to restore electricity after large-scale outages continued even as other crews worked to clean up roads of fallen limbs and other debris. Virginia's governor took an aerial tour of the Hampton Roads region on Monday, his second tour of the state in as many days, assessing damage after Irene's rampage through the state and 10 others spanning the East Coast. At least 35 deaths have been blamed on the storm, which battered two-thirds of Virginia during its weekend assault on the region.

Lack of electricity, water quality and availability, and damage assessments remain the top concerns in the days after the storm, Gov. Bob McDonnell said at a news conference following an aerial tour of Hampton Roads. He was joined some members of Virginia's congressional delegation and state and local officials.

"We really had prepared for the worst, and I think we fared better than expected," said McDonnell, who also toured Richmond and other parts of central Virginia on Sunday. "It was such a broad storm that affected so much of Virginia."

Still, he said "Virginia was the home of great tragedy," referring to the four deaths in the state — all from falling trees.

The outer storm bands delivered the highest winds and rain between 50 and 60 miles from the Virginia coast. The Richmond metropolitan area was hard hit with power outages and damage from downed trees. Meanwhile, the Hampton Roads area saw near-record storm surge that could lead to some flooding as the Nansemond and Blackwater rivers are expected to crest at moderate flood stage on Tuesday.

"We're still not out of the woods yet," McDonnell said.

Virginia is hoping to have an estimate of property damage by Friday to help decide what type of aid is available. And officials with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management are looking at its options to request disaster funding, including a possible major disaster declaration.

"There's a lot of damage that we can't see, but we know is there," Congressman Randy Forbes added.

McDonnell cautioned residents to be careful during cleanup efforts to avoid touching downed power lines or over-exerting themselves. He said half of the deaths related to Hurricane Isabel in 2003 were took place during recovery and cleanup efforts.

He also encouraged donations to the newly created Virginia Disaster Relief Fund to help supplement other state and federal disaster aid, adding that contributions also can be made through the state's ABC stores.

"See, if we privatized ABC, we'd have a lot more stores for people to be able to donate," McDonnell joked, referring to his efforts to sell off the state's liquor stores.

Dominion Virginia Power, which has about 2.3 million customers in the state, said Monday it is hoping to restore power to nearly all customers affected by Hurricane Irene-related outages by the end of the day Friday. About 514,320 customers remained without power Monday afternoon, the majority in the Richmond area.

More than 6,000 crew members are involved in its restoration efforts, including more than 2,000 workers from utilities in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina and South Carolina — the second-largest restoration effort after Hurricane Isabel in 2003. About 1,100 bucket trucks will be on the job to help to restore power to Dominion customers.

Virginia's electric cooperatives said about 42,600 of their 524,000 customers across the state also were without power on Monday afternoon.

"I've been kind of thinking of it like camping," said Sue Lelik, who was walking her lab-Dutch shepherd mix "Dutch" near her Richmond home. "But now I'm bored as anything. I've already done all my cleaning."

"The first two days I was OK," she said. "Today, I really miss my TV."

Lelik, a diabetic, said her biggest concern has been keeping her insulin on ice. She and her husband already had to throw away most of their food, and they were getting by on whatever nonperishable items they could eat without cooking.

Lelik, who works at a Kroger store, saw firsthand the food-shopping frenzy that preceded the storm. But she only bought a few items of her own in preparation.

"It was crazy — like the world was ending," she said.

In downtown Norfolk on Monday, the city distributed free bags of ice in a fire station parking lot.

Felicia Richardson, who lives in public housing across the street from the station, had been without power for 48 hours. Her electricity has since been restored, but another storm moving through the area had her worried it may go out again.

"It was real scary because we've got five kids in the house running wild," Richardson recalled.

The latest report from the Virginia Department of Transportation shows 22 primary and about 195 secondary roads remain closed. Of those roads, 90 involve power lines, nearly 70 are from trees, about 15 involve flooded roads and more than 10 are from washouts. All bridges, tunnels and interstates that were closed during the storm have reopened.

Most of the thousands of people who moved to shelters in Virginia to escape Hurricane Irene have left, emergency officials said. About 5,000 people sought refuge during the storm at more than 80 shelters opened by local government throughout the state. No state-managed shelters were opened.

McDonnell also was somewhat retrospective in the state and local actions to prepare for the storm, including authorizing localities to issue mandatory evacuations ahead of the storm. Many did, and the governor said, "that was the right call."

"I'd much rather err on the side of safety than to down play something and then have catastrophe," he said.


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