Craig people pull together to weather storm’s aftermath
NEW CASTLE – Despite storm warnings packing winds of up to 80 miles an hour that stifling hot Friday evening of June 30, people were caught off guard when the straight line windstorm called a derecho blew through Craig County leaving a wide spread path of destruction and downed trees, many across main power lines.
At 8:30 p.m. the sky over New Castle looked as though the day would end with neither rain nor storm, but looks were certainly deceiving. Within 20 minutes or less the sky had darkened, the winds had picked up and swept into the county, roaring through town like a freight train. And then it was gone.
Just as quickly as it had come, it raced on into the next county, the next town, the next state, leaving darkness and devastation behind and little or no rain.
Electric power was out in much of downtown New Castle and many surrounding areas that night, and in some cases for days.
That night after the storm passed through was chaos for fire and rescue volunteers. In addition to being a part of all-night chainsaw crews, they had fires to fight because of lightning strikes, people on oxygen who needed more cylinders and others on breathing machines who needed power to run them.
By Saturday morning a temporary shelter was opened at the Craig-New Castle Volunteer Fire Department and provided meals for people who needed them, as well as volunteers. Jim Cady, Craig County’s Emergency Management Coordinator, explained “Craig County Rescue Squad offered and I accepted their offer to cook meals until I could make other arrangements. They cooked and coordinated meals for everyone including the citizens for three meals Saturday and three meals Sunday.”
Cady added that rescue squad and fire volunteers coordinated with volunteer drivers and also used CCRS vehicles to deliver meals on these days.
By Sunday morning it was a challenge to find ice for coolers and refrigerators, and gasoline lines were long at stations that still had gas left and power left to pump fuel. While there was plenty of bottled water being distributed by the Salvation Army, many were wishing for some ice to make it cold, a hot shower, and cooler temperatures than upper 90s.
Cady said he arranged with the Salvation Army for a mobile canteen truck to start serving meals from Craig County High School starting with breakfast on Monday morning, July 2. “On Sunday the Salvation Army delivered water and sandwich material to Craig County, and a distribution center was also opened at Craig Rescue squad,” said Cady, who explained part of the meals served Sunday were made with food the Salvation Army provided. He added that Craig County government will pay for the meals, Cady plans to ask the Board of Supervisors to make a donation to the Salvation Army for the meals. Final meal costs are not in yet.
However, for the most part everyone seemed to take the situation in stride. According to Pastor Bill Grindstaff who served as the nighttime coordinator for the shelter, there was no shortage of volunteers to help out wherever they were needed, and people were pleasant and grateful.
Cady said they tried to keep someone with medical experience of some kind or other at the shelter at all times because members of the Craig County Search and Rescue Team headed up by Chief Terry Brookman of Upper Craigs Creek VFD went door-to-door in New Castle checking on people and getting those that really needed it into the shelter for whatever treatment they needed. Other local fire departments checked on the sick and elderly in their response areas also and sent anyone needing assistance to the shelter, to family members’ homes and transported others who needed medical treatment.
Grindstaff praised Cady’s efforts in the emergency. “I have to take my hat off to Jim Cady because he thought outside of the box in getting the crews to clear trees and debris from the right of ways and then contacting Appalachian Power to let them know it had been done. That put us way ahead of the game.”
The majority of residences and businesses in New Castle are supplied by Appalachian Power. Those who get their electricity through Craig-Botetourt Electric Cooperative were less hard hit and had their power restored sooner, officials said.
In turn, Cady gave credit to Craig County fire, rescue and law enforcement personnel.
“I cannot express my feelings toward Craig County fire, rescue and law enforcement without tearing up. They were so supportive during this event and not a single person asked why or refused what I asked. We had a great response from citizens, churches and businesses. Our Craig County Board of Supervisors supported me throughout the event and allowed me to do what I needed to do.
“We recovered quicker than most communities because we took care of Craig County ourselves and didn’t wait for others to take care of us! Our fire, rescue and law enforcement have a big heart for our citizens and our citizens supported us,” Cady said.