Significant weather-related outages across its West Virginia and Virginia service areas was part of a massive straight line wind storm that traveled close to 700 miles in 10 hours, devastating 10 states and leaving more than 4.3 million utility customers without electric service throughout the United States. Officials are characterizing the storm as similar to or even greater than a hurricane, but without advance warning. The storm produced winds in excess of 75 m.p.h. and heavy rain.
This Power Company Map, taken on July 9, 2012, 10 days after the storm hit, shows the remaining Appalachian Power Customers in West Virginia and Virginia still without power – 10 Days Later!
Our Personal Survival StoryWe were traveling to a weekend White Water Rafting trip on the New River in West Virginia, near Oak Hill, WV. We arrived at our motel in Lewisburg, WV, late Friday afternoon, on June 29, 2012. The power went out about 8:30 PM during an intense wind and lightning storm. There were fallen trees, branches and electrical lines laying everywhere (Photo: Top). It was a wild storm! The entire town of Lewisburg, WV, and our motel had no power; no AC, no lights and no hot water. Most motel windows don’t open. We had to leave the motel door open all night to get any air flow into the room – This wasn’t very safe!
Early Saturday morning, the power was still out, and it was approaching 98°F. No one knew for sure what was going on, or how wide spread the power outage was. It appeared to be just a local storm, with a few small trees and power lines down, so most people assumed the power would be back on sometime that day – That never happened. Cell phone data was down, but the voice was still working. We decided that White Water Rafting required no power, so we headed up to Oak Hill, WV for a day of White Water Rafting on the New River.
The White Water Rafting company was open, but running on generators. Nothing in Oak Hill, WV was open, which meant the power outage was much larger than we had first expected. We saw long lines at only one gas station that had a generator, all the others were closed. We were starting to worry about our own gas situation.
We were heading back from White Water Rafting on Saturday afternoon, around 3:30 PM on I-64 from Beckley, WV to Lewisburg, WV. We could only find one radio station on the car radio, so we had no news. This is a fairly remote area of West Virginia, so we decided to investigate every exit on the Interstate with a gas station sign, hoping to find some remote gas station with a generator, but none were to be found. Many people were stopped under overpasses to stay out of the blazing hot sun. We saw some families with little kids on their tiny lawn chairs camped out front of the gas pumps – Waiting for the power to come back on, but it never did. It was hopeless. It was sad. It was a mess. People’s nerves were being pushed to the limit!
In reality, 60% of the state of West Virginia had no power. Appalachian Power predictions were that power would be restored sometime within the next 10 days! 10 days – Not 10 hours – Did we hear that right?We arrived back in Lewisburg, WV on I-64, around 4:30 PM on Saturday afternoon. The entire town of Lewisburg, WV, and our motel were still in the dark. It was still very hot out and almost everyone had checked out of the motel. All the motel had to offer were day old sticky buns, and cold showers by flashlight – Which felt pretty good by this time. We got cleaned up and decided to check out a day early and try to make it back home, to North Carolina, rather than spend another night in this dark, hot and sticky motel, and cold showers in the dark with our NEBO LED Flashlights. Nothing in Lewisburg, WV was open; no restaurants, no food stores, no gas stations. It was like a ghost town, with very little traffic on the roads.
It was rumored, at the motel, that Southwest Virginia had power and gas. We used a Cracker Barrel restaurant map in the car to start calling into Southwest Virginia, asking the restaurants if they had power. One confirmed the rumor, that Southwest Virginia did indeed have power, but nothing north of the tunnels on I-77 had any power.
We calculated that we had just enough gas, maybe 1/4 tank, to make it through the tunnels on I-77, if we took the back roads and drove slower, 45 m.p.h. with the AC turned off, to conserve gas, rather than the faster Interstate at 70 m.p.h. We already knew there was no gas along I-64, so we decided to take the back roads towards I-77. Gas was the #1 problem all over West Virginia. Most gas stations had gas, but no generators and no way to pump the gas out of the tanks.
Along the rural back roads of West Virginia, we saw many abandoned cars and trucks, and not just the ones on people’s front lawns. We didn’t see any rescue vehicles, so if you ran out of gas, no one was going to help you. There is a tiny rural town in Virginia, called Rich Creek, VA, that pokes it’s head north up into West Virginia between a river and a mountain, for just about two miles. We arrived in Rick Creek, VA, around 5:30 PM to find out they did indeed have power, but the only gas station in town, a Dairy Queen Gas Station, had just run dry.
The gas pumps had plastic bags over the nozzles, and no one was lining up. We decided to pull into the Dairy Queen to have dinner, as it was the only place we had seen open since we left Lewisburg, WV an hour ago. While we were eating, We looked out the window and saw a big tanker truck pulling up along side the tanks. We immediately got up and ran outside, pulling my truck up in front of the first gas pump. A few minutes later, an employee came out and removed the plastic bags off the nozzles. They only had 87 Octane, but hey, it burned. Within a few minutes, the gas pumps were primed and gas was flowing into my tank. A long line of cars and trucks started forming behind me, backing out into the road. We only paid $2.99 a gallon for the gas – A real bargain in more ways than one!
We made it safely back home to North Carolina late Saturday night. We often wonder what would have become of us if we had decided to stay another night in Lewisburg, WV, or if we didn’t have enough gas in the tank to make it to Virginia. What if we got stranded on the Interstate under some dark overpass or at some backwoods gas station. We still have visions of these little kids on their tiny lawn chairs camped out front of the gas pumps. Many areas of West Virginia were without power for over 10 days!
Yes, it can happen to you! Lessons Learned in the West Virginia Power Outage
- Carry Cash – ATMs and Credit Cards don’t work when the power is out.
- Only a very few gas stations had generators – 3 hour lineups and eventually ran out.
- Don’t stick around waiting for the power to come on.
- Get out of the disaster area – Don’t stick around and become part of the problem.
- Travel with extra food, protein bars, nuts, trail mix and water in the car.
- Don’t let the gas tank drop below 1/2 when traveling on the Interstate.
- Fill up your tank immediately when you arrive at your destination.
- Tactical LED Flashlights with Lithium Batteries worked great.
- Car Radio only picked up 1 Radio Station – so you are really off the grid for news.
- Cell Phones worked only for voice in a few areas – no data – no internet – no news.
- Land Lines were down in many areas as well as Cell Phones.
- If you have a Concealed Handgun Permit for the States you are in – Bring it.