Obama declares emergency in W.Va. due to outages

CHARLESTON (AP) — President Barack Obama issued an emergency declaration for West Virginia on Saturday following violent storms that downed trees and power lines across the state, leaving more than 680,000 without electricity as temperatures in the 90s continued.

The emergency declaration authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide help and coordinate relief efforts.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency early Saturday morning after the storms swept across the state Friday night.

Tomblin said 53 of the state’s 55 counties had outages, the most extensive in recent history.

“Those winds were so strong and over such a wide area,” the governor said Saturday afternoon at a news conference in Charleston. “It’s going to take several days to get power back on.”

An Amtrak train headed from New York to Chicago became stranded near Prince when fallen trees blocked the tracks both in front of and behind the train, Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm said. The train came to a halt about 11 p.m. Friday, and passengers were picked up by buses the next night. All the buses had departed by 8:20 Saturday.

Kulm said the train had power, so lights and air-conditioning were working. Because it’s a long-distance train, it was stocked with food and crew members were able to get to town to buy more, he said, adding that he was not aware of any passengers experiencing health problems because of the ordeal.

Brooke Richart, a 26-year-old teacher from New York City, said she spent more than 20 hours stranded. She said she read half a book, talked to the people around her and took walks outside the train.

“We tried to walk up the side of the mountain to see if anyone could get cell service. We didn’t have cell service the entire time we were down there,” she said.

She was traveling to her hometown of Cincinnati. She said the ride had mostly been smooth, with a few delays, before they stopped in Prince. The storm had already passed through by the time they stopped there. She fell asleep on the train not knowing how long they’d be stuck there.

She said the train attendants and her fellow passengers were extremely nice — watching each others’ children and sharing food.

However, she said her family had a hard time figuring out where she was in conversations with Amtrak customer service representatives. By the time the buses arrived, her father had also come to pick her up and drive her the rest of the way.

“It gets a little trying,” she said. “Thankfully we could go in and out of the train because we were there so long. If you wanted to stretch your legs or take a walk, you could do that.”

Cooling shelters were set up across the state for residents without electricity who needed refuge from the heat. The Department of Health and Human Resources was assessing nursing homes and hospitals to determine whether any evacuations were necessary.

Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races canceled Sunday’s afternoon races due to expected temperatures in the mid- to upper 90s.

Gasoline was scarce across the state, due not to a shortage but to power outages taking pumps out of service. Long lines of vehicles queued up at businesses with working pumps and snaked into nearby streets.

Steve Anderson of Cross Lanes and his family waited in a line at a convenience store near the state Capitol to fill up their vehicle’s gas tank before setting out on a vacation trip to Nags Head, N.C. It was the third place they had visited in their search for fuel.

“At the previous gas station, the tank ran out. The person in front of us got gas and we pulled up and they shut off the pump,” Anderson said.

Kim Molisee sat frustrated in her car outside a darkened convenience store in Reedsville, just down the road from her home.

“I’m almost out of gas, and I can’t run around too much trying to find a store that’s open where I can get gas and ice,” she said.

Molisee will be able to cook on her gas-powered stove and even shower because she has a gas water heater. But staying cool is another matter.

“I think I’m gonna get my boys and go to the river,” she said.

Kim Williams of Charleston bought ice and got coolers to store food after her home lost electricity.

“We do have water. We’re just going to try and stick it out,” she said.

Charleston firefighters helped several residents of an apartment building, some using wheelchairs or walkers, move to a shelter. Fire Capt. Chris Campbell said the evacuation was voluntary and was the only one since the storm hit. But he expected more.

David Gunnoe, one of the displaced residents, was grateful for the shelter’s air conditioning.

“It was like a breath of fresh air,” he said.

Gunnoe, who uses a wheelchair, said he was in the building’s community room when the power went out. He could not return to his fifth-floor apartment because the elevators weren’t working.

Jeff and Alice Haney filled up a cart at a Lowe’s in Morgantown with cases of water, extra flashlights and batteries, and wiring for their generator.

Jeff Haney said he bought the generator after a winter storm knocked out service two years ago. He hoped it would be powerful enough to run the air conditioner but wasn’t too worried either way.

“We have a pool,” he said, “so we’ll be OK.”

The governor asked West Virginians to look out for each other until electricity is restored. He said residents should check on other people, particularly the elderly, to make sure they are all right.

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