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Super storm wrecks havoc, hotels see influx of Culpeper and out-of-area residents

The storm system that roared through Culpeper Friday night with winds in excess of 60 mph and heavy rain was part of a pattern that left millions of people in the mid-Atlantic region without electricity.

All at a time when temperatures soared into the triple digits for several days in a row.

A state of emergency was declared in Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio. Virginia's Gov. Bob McDonnell stated that Virginia experienced its largest non-hurricane power outage in history.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said on NBC, “Unlike a polite hurricane that gives you three days of warning, this storm gave us all the impact of a hurricane without any of the warning…”

At least six people were killed in Virginia.

In Culpeper, approximately 4,000 residents lost power, but there were no deaths or serious injuries reported.

By Sunday evening at 7 p.m. all town light and power customers including Piedmont Street residents had their power back. That beat the estimate by 2 1/2 hours.

Town light and power director Mike Stover said the crews are tired and exhausted, but ecstatic that every town customer has power.

Stover made it happen.

“Our goal is to have the lights on for everybody before we go home (Sunday),” Stover had written in a press release earlier on the weekend.

“From 1,035 customers out immediately following the storm to all restored in less than 45 hours is unheard of,” said public information officer Wally Bunker.

No room at many hotels

Without air conditioning, lights and with food spoiling in refrigerators and freezers, not only were local fast-food restaurants packed, but hotels saw a steep rise in people looking for a cool room.

“In the five years I have worked here I have never seen it like this,” said Frances Edwards, assistant manager of the Microtel Inn on Willis Lane, in a telephone interview Sunday afternoon. “We have more customers than we have rooms. As soon as a room is empty, someone comes in to take it.”

Edwards said she not only had people checking in from Culpeper but from Charlottesville, Fredericksburg, Orange and Maryland.

“It's my understanding that it's the same way with all the hotels around here,” she said. “We've had about 100 calls today from people looking for a room.”

Edwards said it is particularly hard to decide who should get a room when one becomes available.

“I had one very elderly couple come in looking for a room and I told the girls to get one cleaned that had just become empty,” she said. “I couldn't just have them sitting out in their car.”
Edwards said Microtel lost power Friday night, but it was back by Saturday morning.

A desk clerk at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites on Madison Road who asked not to be identified said Sunday the hotel lost power for about 12 hours.

“Over half our rooms are booked by people who came here because of the storm,” the clerk said in a telephone interview. “We're completely full.”

Culpeper also opened cooling shelters at the Brandy Station and Culpeper volunteer fire department buildings over the weekend.

Town light and power and public works crews worked through the night Friday and well into Saturday cleaning up debris and restoring power. The crew members, many of whom returned to homes without electricity when their shift was done, also received assistance from inmates from the Culpeper County Jail provided by the Culpeper County Sheriff's Office, according to a town press release.

“The public works crews worked long hours in extreme heat to clear the streets of fallen trees and debris to allow streets to open for traffic or access for light and power crews to begin the arduous task of restoring power,” said Jim Hoy, town director of public works. “We also want to thank the sheriff's office and the hard work of the inmate workers who also toiled in the extreme heat to help speed up the cleanup process.”

Fallen trees may harbor live wires

Hoy also had a warning about working near downed power lines as cleanup was expected to continue throughout the week.

“Call a tree professional, the local electric provider or 911 to assess the situation,” he said. “Some trees have been compromised by the storm, which carried high winds.

“Don't approach those lines or attempt to cut away fallen trees to limbs from wires that may appear to be harmless. They may be live.”

As the cleanup continued throughout the weekend, deputies were out directing traffic and town police blocked off streets closed by broken electric poles and fallen trees.

“South West Street, Piedmont Street and Fairfax Street had the most damage,” Bunker wrote in a press release. “Trees knocked down power lines and snapped utility poles leaving wires in the street and trees blocking the roads.”

Tom Williams, Culpeper County emergency services director, said VDOT and power company crews responded as rapidly as possible to restore power and open roads. Bunker said that as of 2:30 p.m. Sunday all but 50 town electric customers had their power restored.

At one time 15 county roads and three town streets were closed by trees across the roadway. Town electric crews were dealing with replacing 12 broken poles, 24 cross arms, six damaged transformers and one main overhead line down, Bunker noted.

In a e-mail late Saturday, Culpeper Mayor Chip Coleman said “It has been a long night and day. The guys (working) have been wonderful.”

On Sunday afternoon, Coleman recounted his experience on Saturday in an e-mail.

“West Street from Spring Street toward CVS looked like a war zone with several poles and trees town. The Piedmont Street area also had several poles down causing outages. I am thankful for the dedication of the town staff who have worked long hours over the weekend to get areas cleared and electricity back for our citizens. We planned well for this emergency by having extra poles and other needed equipment on hand.

“I appreciate the public's patience during the weekend in very trying circumstances.”

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