RANSON — Thousands of Eastern Panhandle residents awoke this morning to a second day of no electricity and the prospect of a third straight day of a heat wave.
Forecasters say temperatures this afternoon again could come close to 100 degrees.
Across much of Jefferson County, Friday night’s powerful storm uprooted trees, downed power lines, blew out office windows and roofs, crushed parked cars and trucks, dented buildings and created other havoc.
Similar damage was reported throughout West Virginia and in neighboring states across the Northeast.
Officials with FirstEnergy power company said there were 220,642 customers in West Virginia still without power as of mid-morning. The company has said it may take a week to restore power throughout the region.
In Charles Town, the lack of power shut down convenience stores, the Jumpin’ Java coffee shop, bars and other businesses downtown as well as McDonald’s at 605 E. Washington St.
But for other retail outlets, the storm aftermath proved a boon to business. The powerless were out in force this morning for hot food, cool drinks, the chance to cool off and to power up cell phones and laptops. At the crowded Panera in Ranson, a sign was posted on the door with details on a free emergency cooling shelter set up at Washington High.
Besides a place to cool off, those who come to the shelter also can get bottled water, according to a news release sent out this morning by Jennifer Maggio of the Jefferson County Homeland Security & Emergency Management.
Emergency officials urged residents to stay cool, drink plenty of water and to check in on neighbors and pets.
The Washington High shelter also allows residents to plug in medical assistive devices and will accommodate service animals, according to the release.
The school is located at 300 Washington Patriot Drive in Charles Town. Visitors are asked to use the school’s rear entrance. Those who need transportation to Washington High may call Dr. Sheri Hoff at 540-247-9878.
Facing days without air conditioning, working refrigerators and other perks of electricity, many in the Panhandle are staying busy formulating Plan Bs – heading to movie theaters or malls or
taking their kids to swimming pools and lakes to stay cool or checking into hotels or doubling up with friends or relatives.
In and around town, most people are beginning conversations this way: “You got power?”
With food at risk for spoiling in their refrigerators and freezers, some residents called on loved ones living outside the storm zone to purchase bags of ice or even generators to bring to them. Stores here have been sold out since early Saturday.
Few in the Panhandle could recall ever going so long without power.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley described the storm as “historic” and he, Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin all declared states of emergency.
The storm itself officially was a Derecho. From the Spanish word for “straight,” it is a widespread, extended, straight-line windstorm.
A warm-weather phenomenon, it is defined as a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms with winds of 50 mph or more.
It may be a new term for many Panhandle residents, but the description first was used more than a century ago – to describe a storm that hit Iowa in 1877.
In Friday’s storm, the damage created by the high winds stretches from parts of Indiana and Ohio through Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and D.C. The storm was blamed for a number of deaths, including an elderly Maryland woman who was killed in her bed when a tree fell on her home.