There is something to be said for life in an area where people own chainsaws and – more important – know how to use them.
As in severe storms earlier this summer and recent winters past, neighbors pitched in to clear secondary roads while fire and rescue volunteers, sheriff’s deputies and VDOT crews cleared the rest. The Virginia Piedmont’s downed trees and powerlines left by Sunday night’s historic passage of Hurricane Sandy through the mid-Atlantic – for those who had power and could watch it happen on The Weather Channel – paled in comparison to the devastation visited on New York City and the New Jersey coast.
But still, there is also something to be said for electricity – and as of Wednesday afternoon, more than 500 of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative’s (REC) 4,800-plus customers in Rappahannock County were still without it (although the number, which you can see on the utility’s “Outage Center” online at myrec.coop, kept dropping steadily through the day). REC spokesman Ann M. Lewis said Wednesday that crews expected to have power back sometime Thursday to most everyone in Rappahannock.
By Monday afternoon, however, more than three-quarters of the county’s homes and businesses were reported to be without electricity. Though it has the smallest total of REC customers compared to surrounding counties, Rappahannock had by far highest percentage of outages. Substations near Amissville and Sperryville were damaged by Sunday night’s winds, Lewis said, along with an unusually large number of downed trees and snapped poles at higher, east-facing elevations, where wind gusts reached above 80 mph. “Substations are where the power starts, and if those go down you’re looking at severe damage,” Lewis said.
As repairs stretched into Wednesday, Lewis said: “The terrain here has a lot to do with it. In the beginning, it was hard to even get to some places because so many trees were down or there was flooding. It’s still our plan to have everyone back up by Thursday. There might be a few individuals without power, but our plan is still Thursday.”
Sheriff Connie C. Smith said she and her deputies found themselves responding almost exclusively, late Sunday and early Monday, to reports of trees and power lines down. “Everyone was pretty good about following the county administrator’s instructions to stay inside and bunker down.
“We were busier than during the derecho [in June],” she said. “More trees were down. VDOT was a big help; they had two big bulldozers. We tried to stay on top of it and cut up trees to keep the roads open but eventually we couldn’t keep up. So we gave them a call and they came in with the bulldozers and got it cleared up right away.”
For the most part, less rainfall than expected kept Rappahannock’s many rivers and streams within their banks. Weather station operator David Yowell in Old Hollow recorded 4.5 inches through Tuesday afternoon; Demaris Miller, who has a weather station near Battle Mountain, recorded 4.4 inches of rain. Six inches of snow fell Sunday on Skyline Drive, which was closed Monday by Shenandoah National Park officials.
Further west, some spots in West Virginia got more than two feet of snow. Further east and north, some 8 million people were reported to be without power, and for those on the island of Manhattan and along the barrier islands on the coast of New Jersey – where Gov. Chris Christie described the damage as “unthinkable” – it will be a long recovery.
Overall, as Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the state suffered “relatively minimal damage.”