Life after Superstorm Sandy was slowly returning to normal across West Virginia's hardest-hit counties this week, but officials in some places said a full recovery will take months.
Thousands of West Virginia homes and businesses remained without power as utility crews continued restoring service knocked out by the storm. Ohio-based FirstEnergy said it expected to return electricity to most customers by late Friday and the remainder by the end of the weekend.
FirstEnergy representatives said Thursday it had restored service to more than 2.1 million of the 2.3 million customers across its six-state service territory who lost power following Superstorm Sandy.
Submitted photo courtesy of Norman Lenburg/FEMA
Members of the West Virginia National Guard work this week to clear the road to a remote emergency radio repeater site in Tucker County. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is working with state, federal and local partners to assist residents of the state affected by the deep snow, heavy rain and high winds of Superstorm Sandy.
As part of the largest storm restoration effort in the company's history, more than 19,000 FirstEnergy employees, outside contractors and utility workers teamed to restore service after Hurricane Sandy's severe winds and precipitation left thousands of downed trees and branches, significant flooding and, in some areas, heavy snow in its wake. More than 595 miles of cable and wire, 23,000 crossarms, 7,200 utility poles and 3,200 transformers have been used as part of the massive restoration effort.
Restoration for FirstEnergy customers in the most heavily damaged areas, including parts of Barbour, Braxton, Clay, Nicholas, Preston, Randolph, Tucker, Upshur and Webster counties, may continue into this weekend.
Appalachian Power was able to restore power to all its customers by Thursday.
Schools remained closed in Preston and Webster counties, but Preston emergency management director Duane Hamilton said authorities were working with the school board in hopes of getting buses back on the road next week. Crews remained out across the region, cutting back toppled and snapped-off trees and hauling them away from the roadsides to make the lanes more passable.
Though nearly every road in the county was open, Hamilton said, "the total recovery from this is going to take months."
Calls for assistance and emergency food and water deliveries had trickled off by Thursday, and a dozen volunteers from the Tennessee-based group Volunteers Active in Disasters were out shoveling snow from roofs and removing trees from individual homes while National Guard and other teams worked on public property.
Officials are still delivering some 2,000 meals a day, Hamilton said, or serving them at Red Cross feeding stations in eight communities, including Terra Alta, Aurora, Rowlesburg and Fellowsville.
The worst, however, is past. Now, most people face only minor inconveniences.
Megan Maxwell, 17, who lives on a small farm outside Newburg, says her family was relying on a generator for limited power during the day and turning it off at night.
"I'm ready to kill my brother," she said. Bored 9-year-olds are a handful.
She also had to go to a public laundromat for the first time. There's not enough power from the generator to run the washer and dryer at home.
"I had to wash probably eight loads," Maxwell said. "It was an experience."
April Sisler, 29, also of Newburg, said her biggest challenge is entertaining 4-year-old daughter Jada.
"She always wants something on ... like the TV," she said. "And we can't run everything. It's hard to make her understand she can't have it all on because it makes it hard for the generator."
When the power comes back, "it'll be so much easier," Sisler said. "But other than that, we're holding up pretty good."
In Barbour County, Commission President Phil Hart said only about 20 percent of residents were still without power in the middle of the week.
Most water service had been restored, but authorities were delivering supplies and handing out bottles at staging areas for those who rely on wells.
The shelters had no overnight occupants anymore, but Hart said they were still serving a few hundred hot meals a day - fewer as the power comes back.
Last week, Hart said, National Guard crews in Black Hawk helicopters were flying over cutoff parts of the county to check on people still stranded by deep snow, and downed trees and power lines. In places where they saw no vehicles, the teams hovered until someone came outside.
When they failed to rouse the couple at one isolated home, Hart said, the soldier rappelled down. He found the pair well supplied with food and water, and in no danger.
"But they did have one request," Hart said. "They wanted him to take their absentee ballots to the post office for them so they could vote." The guardsman did.
"You hear a lot of sad stories," Hart said, "but it's nice to hear a good one, too."
Hart said his main concern now is the economic impact on small businesses and the county's volunteer first responders.
"People aren't going to have the money to support them to help them get back on their feet," he said.
Some businesses had insurance to cover part of their losses, but not all.
"And their employees, if they're not working they have no money coming in," Hart said. "Everybody's in the same situation."