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Sunday, July 1,2012

Power outages, heat wave expected to persist for several days

Rural water district reports low or no pressure in some areas

Photo Credits: Steven Turville
Photo Caption: Kroger on East State Street saw a majority of the traffic on June 30th as residents sought to stock up on essentials during the power outage. Kroger was amoung the first stores to regain commercial power after losing it during Friday evening's storm.

With millions of people having lost power due to violent storms across the mid-Atlantic region Friday evening and Saturday morning, AEP Ohio announced at 10:30 a.m. Sunday that it had restored power to about 185,000 of the 660,000 customers who had lost it in Ohio. Much of Athens County remained without power Sunday morning.

Adding aggravation – and a certain amount of danger – to the situation, is forecasting temperatures into the 90s for the next week, rising to 98 on Saturday, July 7.

Approximately 475,000 customers of AEP Ohio remained without power as of 10 a.m. Sunday, the company stated in the release. ("Customers" refers to households or businesses rather than people.)

Though power gradually started returning to parts of the city of Athens throughout the day Saturday (as well as The Plains and Nelsonville), other parts of the city and county could be facing several more days without electricity, AEP has indicated.

Athens' east-side shopping district, including Kroger, Walmart, Lowe's and most of the strip-malls did have power by early evening, and uptown Athens got its power back gradually during the day. However, the city's south side, including the retail district on Richland Avenue, remained without power on Sunday.

AEP Ohio's website, in its 10:30 a.m. Sunday report, gave rough estimates for the times by which various areas would get 90 percent power restoration.

In the company's Athens area (which, unaccountably, does not actually list any community in Athens County), these ranged from midnight Friday for Gallipolis, Marietta and Pomeroy; to midnight Saturday for Lancaster; to midnight July 10 for Wellston.

Presumably, this means that power will be restored to some customers (up to the 90 percent restoration level) sooner than the dates given, an assumption confirmed by the restoration of power as early as Saturday afternoon in parts of Athens, Nelsonville and The Plains.

The release stressed that these restoration estimates may still change, and potentially be pushed back if any more extreme weather occurs.

Ohio University announced Saturday evening that, based on the partial power restoration in the Athens area, the university's main campus would be re-opening at 8 a.m. Monday, with classes and normal activities going on as scheduled.

Baker Center was staying open, however, as a cooling station, along with a variety of other areas in Athens County.

AS OF 10 A.M. SUNDAY, AEP Ohio reported, about 475,000 of its customers remained without power. Maps of its various restoration efforts around the area are available online.

The storms, which hit multiple states and led to emergencies being declared in Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia, the District of Columbia and Virginia, knocked down transmission structures, poles, power lines and trees over a huge area. In a car trip from Athens to Guernsey County Saturday morning, an Athens NEWS reporter saw countless downed trees and power lines, and ran into a number of road closures as workers tried to clear the debris.

Many homes faced potential fire hazards after downed trees brought down power lines connected to houses. Residents raised concerns about the downed wires, or damaged connections, becoming live and dangerous as soon as the power kicks back on. AEP was struggling to keep up with such calls from homeowners.

With many gas stations in the county unable to pump because of no power, the few that were still in operation were swamped with customers filling up. Stations on East State Street had long lines Saturday afternoon, but these paled in comparison with the scene around noon at the Cool Spot in Coolville.

There, a long line of scores of cars stretched out along the berm of Ohio Rt. 7, waiting to get into the station. Many drivers had simply turned off their vehicles as they waited for a chance to inch forward.

On Friday night, public safety officials in Athens County were urging citizens to stay home if possible, and to avoid calling 9-1-1 except in cases of genuine emergency.

The impact of the storms was worsened by the broiling heat that has hit the area in recent days. "Cooling stations" have been set up around the county, where people who are suffering from the heat can go and lower their personal temperature for a while. These include:

• Church of the Nazarene, The Plains, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

• Coolville Volunteer Fire Department, as long as needed

• Albany Area Volunteer Fire Department, as long as needed

• The Plains Volunteer Fire Department, as long as needed

• Glouster Volunteer Fire Department, as long as needed

• Jacksonville Volunteer Fire Department, as long as needed

• City of Athens Recreation Center, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

• Ohio University Baker Center, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

• Waterloo Volunteer Fire Department, as long as needed

In uptown Athens, most businesses remained closed Saturday morning with the notable exception of food carts that were able to offer fare to long lines of customers. Some bars, such as The Pub, opened their doors for "cash only," selling bottles of beer on ice.

A planned Ohio Brew Week outdoor party on West Union late Saturday afternoon went off as planned, with a respectable crowd enjoying numerous craft-beer and food booths, despite the hot weather. A Brew Week "Brew-B-Q" event Friday evening got hit by the storm, which struck shortly after 6 p.m., though no injuries were reported. That event had been going on since noon near the old Athens Train Depot.

By Saturday night power had been restored to uptown Athens and the area was full of people looking to take advantage of the air conditioning in various businesses.

While the city of Athens had instituted a water conservation program Saturday while the wastewater treatment plant was down because of the power outage, the plant went back to normal operations after the power kicked on.

However, Le-Ax Water District, which provides water to much of rural Athens County, announced a boil-alert for all customers until further notice. In addition, Le-Ax's telephone lines were not working so customers couldn't call in. Some customers were reporting Sunday afternoon that they weren't getting any water at all, and the company confirmed that in some areas, the water pressure was low or non-existent. – Jim Phillips, Terry Smith and David DeWitt collaborated on this story


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