MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Life after superstorm Sandy was slowly returning to normal across West Virginia's hardest-hit counties Wednesday, but officials in some places said a full recovery would take months.About 16,665 West Virginia homes and businesses remained without power at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday evening as utility crews continued restoring service knocked out by the storm. Ohio-based FirstEnergy said it expects to return electricity to most customers by late Friday and the remainder by the end of the weekend.Its website showed Preston County with about 4,700 customers still in the dark and Randolph County a close second with more than 2,920 outages. The utility said it had about 2,700 outages in Upshur and about 1,500 in Barbour, but fewer than 1,900 in Webster and 1,300 in Tucker counties.Appalachian Power's website showed no customers without power at about 6:30 p.m.
Schools remained closed in Preston and Webster counties, but Preston emergency management director Duane Hamilton said authorities are working with the school board in hopes of getting buses back on the road next week. Crews remained out across the region, cutting back toppled and snapped-off trees and hauling them away from the roadsides to make the lanes more passable.Though nearly every road in the county was open, Hamilton said, "the total recovery from this is going to take months."The extent of the damage depended mainly on elevation, with the highest parts of the county taking the hardest hits."There was damage from one end of the county to the other," he said.But calls for assistance and emergency food and water deliveries have trickled off, and a dozen volunteers from the Tennessee-based group Volunteers Active in Disasters were out shoveling snow from roofs and removing trees from individual homes while the National Guard and other teams worked on public property.Officials are still delivering some 2,000 meals a day, Hamilton said, or serving them at Red Cross feeding stations in eight communities, including Terra Alta, Aurora, Rowlesburg and Fellowsville.The worst, however, is past. Now, most people face only minor inconveniences.Megan Maxwell, 17, who lives on a small farm outside Newburg, says her family is relying on a generator for limited power during the day and turning it off at night."I'm ready to kill my brother," she said. Bored 9-year-olds are a handful.She also had to go to a public laundromat for the first time. There's not enough power from the generator to run the washer and dryer at home."I had to wash probably eight loads," Maxwell said. "It was an experience."
April Sisler, 29, also of Newburg, says her biggest challenge is entertaining 4-year-old daughter Jada."She always wants something on ... like the TV," she said. "And we can't run everything. It's hard to make her understand she can't have it all on because it makes it hard for the generator."When the power comes back, "it'll be so much easier," Sisler said. "But other than that, we're holding up pretty good."In Barbour County, Commission President Phil Hart said only about 20 percent of residents are still without power. Most water service had been restored, but authorities were delivering supplies and handing out bottles at staging areas for those who rely on wells.The shelters have no overnight occupants anymore, but Hart said they're still serving a few hundred hot meals a day -- fewer as the power comes back.Last week, Hart said, National Guard crews in Black Hawk helicopters were flying over cut-off parts of the county to check on people still stranded by deep snow, and downed trees and power lines. In places where they saw no vehicles, the teams hovered until someone came outside.
When they failed to rouse the couple at one isolated home, Hart said, the soldier rappelled down. He found the pair well supplied with food and water, and in no danger."But they did have one request," Hart said. "They wanted him to take their absentee ballots to the post office for them so they could vote." The guardsman did."You hear a lot of sad stories," Hart said, "but it's nice to hear a good one, too."Hart said his main concern now is the economic impact on small businesses and the county's volunteer first responders."People aren't going to have the money to support them to help them get back on their feet," he said.Some businesses had insurance to cover part of their losses, but not all."And their employees, if they're not working they have no money coming in," Hart said. "Everybody's in the same situation."With power restored to its West Virginia customers, Appalachian Power is sending crews to New Jersey to help with recovery efforts from Sandy.Utility spokeswoman Jeri Matheney told the Charleston Daily Mail that crews would head out of state on Wednesday.About 531,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey remained without power Tuesday afternoon.Also, students are back in class at a Summersville school where the roof partially collapsed under the weight of heavy snow.Nicholas County assistant schools superintendent Damon Hanshaw told WCHS-TV that crews stabilized Summersville Elementary School on Monday and Tuesday. Students returned to classes Wednesday.Hanshaw says repairs won't be fully completed until December.The 50-year-old school has about 350 students. It was among several structures in Nicholas County damaged by heavy snow last week.