The people, livestock and roads of Rappahannock County — blanketed in 19 to 26 inches of wet, heavy snow over the weekend in a once-in-a-century storm — appeared to have made it through a second storm Wednesday without major incident or loss of life.
Which is not to say it was easy.
And which is not to mention another snowfall predicted, though not definitively, for this coming weekend.
As of yesterday, there were still pockets of homes in Rappahannock County — between 200 and 300, according to power company spokespersons – still awaiting restoration of electric power by crews from Allegheny Power or Rappahannock Electric Cooperative. Some of these families and businesses were without power, at press time, for as long as five days.
Note: This article has been slightly edited and updated since its original publication in Feb. 11's newspaper.
At the storm’s height, power companies reported 1,100 customers without power in the county.
Rappahannock Sheriff’s Office deputies made three dozen calls over the weekend to residents stranded and without power or heat, carting at least 15 people to the warm homes of volunteers, and several to area B&Bs.
On Monday, county emergency services coordinator Richie Burke arranged with Superintendent Bob Chappell to open the high school as a “warming shelter.” Chappell announced the same day that Rappahannock schools would remain shut down through Friday.
The Washington Volunteer Fire House itself lost power for nearly three days when, on Saturday, as snow that had begun Friday afternoon continued to fall, branches from several pines along Warren Avenue fell against an Allegheny power line and burst into flames.
“We lost the motors that raise and lower one of the truck bay doors,” said Washington fire chief Ann Spieker on Tuesday afternoon, when power was restored to most customers in Washington. “We are very grateful they [a Manassas company that services the door system] are here right now fixing it. Those doors are very hard to open and close manually.”
A power surge — always a possibility during such major storms — was reported about the same time of the tree fall in the vicinity of the village of Washington. More than a few home- and business-owners reported losing surge protectors, appliances large and small, and the Foster Harris House Bed and Breakfast reported losing $1,000 worth of electrical equipment.
(The B&B. coincidentally, is a party with a handful of others to a damage claim against Allegheny filed after an August power spike apparently did similar damage around town.)
Rescue and fire personnel from volunteer squads in Amissville and Sperryville camped out at their respective halls during the worst of the storm.
On Sunday, rescue crews from Amissville and Washington plowed their way in to a residence off of Aaron Mountain Road, to bring out a heart-attack victim, who was reported to be all right.
Burke reported 52 calls during the storm, ranging from possible heart attacks, sprains and unknown pain, to chimney fires, electrical fires and a half-dozen vehicle accidents.
“The accidents were few,” said Burke, “because I think most people stayed home.”
The worst dangers during the storm, Burke said, were those of homeowners, some of them elderly, who were stranded in homes without power and far removed from plowed roads.
“I think people will be a lot more thoughtful after this storm about preparing for the worst,” he said. “Having water, food, alternative heat — or deciding ahead of time whether it would be better to not remain in such remote spots.”
Burke said Tuesday that depending on the severity of Wednesday’s storm, he was considering asking for National Guard assistance.
“Our rescue squads have been working very hard,” he said. “They’re getting exhausted.”
Stories of rescues and kindnesses and major assistance were heard everywhere both during and after the storm, including on Rappnet, the county’s email list-serve -– for those who retained electric power and internet access throughout the storm.
A request for such stories sent to Rappnet Tuesday turned up numerous comments:
Rappahannock Animal Welfare League shelter director Patti Want wrote to say that RAWL employee Brittany Jones walked two miles, including down an unplowed Weaver Road, to look after the shelter’s homeless dogs for two shifts.
Hunters Road resident Sabine Davis lost power Friday night. At 3:30 a.m. Saturday, having no other source of heat but the electric provided by Rappahannock Electric Coop lines taken out by several downed trees around the Rock Mills area early in the storm, she called the Sheriff’s Office for help.
“Only minutes later, our very own Sheriff Connie Smith called me back, asking if we had any place to go that her deputies could take us to,” she wrote. Davis had a friend in Harris Hollow who still had power, and she and her 14-year-old daughter Sarah waded through nearly two feet of snow, as instructed, to wait in the car at the end of the driveway.
Within an hour, the deputies had plowed their way to the house, picked them up and took them to the friend’s home in Harris Hollow, where they rode out the storm.
Smith said later that deputies, with the help of private volunteer equipment and fire and rescue squad cooperation, were able to get to all those who requested assistance during the storm — as well as several at the far end of unplowed driveways that patrolling deputies actively searched for on Saturday and Sunday.
Conyers House Bed & Breakfast co-owner Sandra Cartright-Brown, who on Tuesday said the inn was the last place on Slate Mills Road still without power, was walking down Route 231 toward Etlan on Sunday to find the inn’s handyman, because a generator was acting up.
“As I got to the top of the hill, Martin Woodard was plowing his long driveway and happened to be at the intersection. He gave me a lift to their house and use of their cell phone, and then back home with me hanging on to the tractor. ‘While I’m here I might as well plow out your driveway,’ Martin said, which was certainly a blessing.”
Other neighbors brought hay bales for the horses and, on Monday, helped track down and return Nellie, the Cartwright-Browns’ 15-year-old blind, deaf Jack Russell, who had lost her bearings in the snow and wandered down Slate Mills Road.
At Meadow Grove Farm in Viewtown, Debbie Massie said she and her husband Jim, looking after nearly a thousand acres and several hundred head of cattle, were grateful that their 25-year-old son David was here for the storm. “I don’t know what we would have done without him,” she said.
Massie said the farm, and several hundred nearby Rappahannock Electric Coop customers, were without power for four days while REC crews — with help from out-of-state contractors — worked to remove the snow-laden trees and branches that had not only knocked down wires but in many cases snapped the tops off of poles.
“I understand that larger clusters of customers have priority for the power companies,” she said, as her husband worked outside Wednesday to insure that the well pumps providing drinking water to both livestock and people were working. “But here it’s also a matter of getting water and food to several hundred animals spread out over a very large area.
“Maybe there could be some kind of community-based service where people who need help can find people who can provide it in emergencies.”
Despite the continued power outages and a smattering of non-life-threatening automobile accidents on Tuesday, as Sheriff Connie Smith said on Wednesday: “I think we dodged a bullet, more or less — but then we got another storm coming in here on Saturday.
“I for one,” she said, “will be glad when the sun peeks out.”