KENNA — On Tuesday, the drone of portable generators in a variety of pitches reverberated from the yards of homes along Kentuck Road as it wound its way through narrow creek valleys and along ridgetops in the usually peaceful Jackson County countryside east of Interstate 77.
The discordant rumbling matched the moods of many of those living along the road, who were among 15,000 West Virginians about to begin a third week without electric service.
“When the derecho hit, we went 15 days without power,” said Mary Sayre, a retired Jackson County teacher, referring to the June 29, 2012, high wind event that knocked 670,000 West Virginia homes and businesses off the power grid. “Back then, we were the very last ones to get our power back.”
With power restoration expected to take as long as late Friday to accomplish in remote sections of Jackson and several nearby counties, according to Appalachian Power estimates, that 15-day record appeared about to be broken.
“Our situation hasn’t improved since the derecho,” Sayre said.
In the nine years since the arrival of that epic storm, she said, “we’ve worn out a new generator from all the power outages we’ve had, and now we have this one.”
On a ridge about one mile to the east, Debbie Shanklin was checking the condition of plants being raised in the greenhouses she and her husband, Bill, operate as Debbie’s Corner and Greenhouse, retailed at Charleston’s Capitol Market.
“The stress is unreal,” she said, examining a tray of tiny greenish sprouts, some of which had turned blotchy white and collapsed. “These microgreens are ruined,” she said. “Some of my tropicals may make it, but all of them have root damage. I have $20,000 worth of perennials sitting here, and I won’t know how many of them are coming back until March, when they’ll sprout if they’re still alive.”
The Shanklins’ greenhouses are normally climate controlled by pumping heat from a large external storage tank into a heater-fan system that warms and circulates air. Without electricity, it can’t operate.
“We can’t afford the $8,000 to $10,000 it would take to install the type of generator we need to run our heating system,” Debbie Shanklin said.
As an alternative, the Shanklins bought four portable gas heaters, eight fuel tanks and about 2,000 gallons of fuel, costing a total of about $6,000 so far, Bill Shanklin said.
“He’s hauling gas all day long,” Debbie Shanklin said of her husband. “Each round trip to Ripley takes about an hour and a half.”
The backup system makes it hard to regulate greenhouse heat.
“It’s always too cold or too hot,” she said.
Debbie Shanklin said she is supposed to be resting and avoiding stress to keep an injured eye from bleeding.
“A rope snapped and one end hit my eye,” she said. “I’ve had a laser procedure and I’m supposed to be taking it easy, not out here working. But if we don’t make some money this spring, we could lose the business,” she said.
The Shanklins’ daughter, Kristen Tomlin, lives in a home adjacent to the greenhouses and near theirs, with her two children, ages 4 months and 5 years, and her coal miner husband.
“Luckily, one of the two kerosene heaters we use to heat the house has a flat surface that I can use to heat up water for my husband to clean up with when he gets home, and for me to do a little cooking,” she said.
Tomlin said she has advanced from preparing fried or scrambled eggs atop the heater, to foil-topped one-pot meals with chicken and vegetables.
Bill Shanklin spent most of Tuesday morning at the Statehouse, where he met with aides to Gov. Jim Justice and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, seeking their intervention in requiring the power company to better maintain power lines.
“They don’t keep the trees cut back from their power lines, and they’ve got no access points to reach the trouble spots causing outages that aren’t right along roads,” he said. “Their people can’t be expected to walk these hills to find what’s causing the outages, walk back to their trucks, and then carry hundreds of pounds of line and equipment back to the repair sites and make the repairs.”
“The power company needs to be more aggressive about clearing trees away from their lines,” said Sayre. “A lot of people in our little valley have medical conditions that require equipment that runs on electricity, and now we’ve gone more than two weeks without power. It’s not appropriate for us to be neglected like this.”
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, power had been restored to all but about 15,000 of the 97,000 Appalachian Power customers who lost power following ice storms on Feb. 11 and 15, according to the power company.
Of the six counties to receive a disaster declaration by Gov. Justice on Feb. 16, Jackson, with 781, had the fewest still lacking power on Tuesday. Wayne County had the most remaining outages, with 5,908, followed by Cabell with 4,103; Mason, 1,417; Lincoln, 1,079, and Putnam, 815.
Outages awaited repairs at 1,230 locations within the six-county area, with only two of them involving more than 300 customers. Fewer than five customers are involved in each of 900 remaining outages, according to Appalachian Power.
About 2,500 repair workers are in the field assessing damage and addressing remaining outages.