Mountain State Digs Into Feet of Snow

PHILIPPI, W.Va. – West Virginia’s death toll climbed to at least five, including a legislative candidate struck by a falling tree limb, and hundreds of thousands remained without power Wednesday from the wet, heavy snow that superstorm Sandy dumped on the mountains, snapping trees like toothpicks, pulling down power lines and collapsing homes.

Many people began the long, arduous task of digging out, but thousands in remote, rural areas remained cut off, their land-line phones out of service and their roads rendered impassible.

Republican House of Delegates candidate John Rose Sr., 60, was checking fences on his 100-acre deer farm near Philippi when a falling tree limb struck him Tuesday afternoon, his son, George Rose, said.

“It was a big limb,” the younger man said. “I don’t even think he knew it hit him.”

In Nicholas County, eight structures collapsed Tuesday under the weight of the snow, but no one was injured. They included an apartment complex, a grocery store, two convenience stores, a hardwood plant and three homes, said county Emergency Service Director Carla Hennessey.

The second floor of the apartment complex in Summersville collapsed onto the first, and the 72 residents were taken to shelters or went to be with relatives.

Hennessey said the storm left snow drifts as high as 5 feet in Richwood and 3 feet in Summersville.

“It’s been really hard to check on our residents,” she said. “Nicholas County is a widespread county. Even our primary roads have been impassible at times. We’re just now getting into some secondary routes to check on people.”

Meanwhile, power companies began restoring more electricity. Service remained out to nearly 218,000 customers Wednesday afternoon, down from 271,000 a day earlier.

At least 36 roads remained closed statewide.

In Barbour County, U.S. 119 north from Buckhannon to Philippi and U.S. 250 south from Philippi to Harding were lined with toppled trees and snapped limbs. Limbs that were still attached drooped low over the road under a burden of snow, and power and telephone lines lay on the ground.

Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins said the situation is more dramatic on back roads, where many people are cut off.

“They can’t get out in either direction, and they have no phones, no power, no anything,” he said. “We haven’t gotten into those rural areas yet to try to locate anybody who needs help.”

The storm that dumped at least 2 feet of snow in some higher elevations has blocked the utilities from using helicopters to assess damage to transmission lines. Instead, that work has been done on the ground, meaning it will take longer for crews to look over the lines in rural, mountainous areas.