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Snow storm leaves thousands without power

STAFF • Dec 9, 2018 at 2:34 PM

KINGSPORT — A winter storm that hit late Saturday night brought power outages and treacherous roads to the region as snow continued to fall Sunday afternoon.

Public schools in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia will be closed Monday.

Snow totals ranged from several inches in the Tri-Cities to a foot in parts of Sullivan County and Southwest Virginia.

As of 5 p.m. Sunday, there were about 6,000 Appalachian Power customer outages in the Kingsport area, and about 13,000 in Southwest Virginia, mostly in the Gate City, Clinton and Glade Spring areas, according to Appalachian Power’s John Shepelwich.

In Southwest Virginia, several substations were out because of feeds from transmission lines, according to Shepelwich.

“Our transmission crews are working to bring those back, possibly as early as tonight, and that will help greatly in those Virginia communities,” he said.

Appalachian Power’s in-house weather data indicates the wettest snow in the company’s territory fell in the Kingsport area.

“That kind, of course, is most damaging,” Shepelwich said.

“There should be favorable weather tomorrow (Monday) for restoration work. In addition to extra crews already here, we expect more of our own Appalachian Power crews that had been standing by in the Charleston area of West Virginia. The weather will allow us a better time for assessments of damage and assignments of crews, as well as in more rural and mountainous areas, use of helicopters for scouting,” Shepelwich said.

He said crews from Appalachian Power’s sister company, Indiana Michigan Power, came in Saturday night to help repair the outages.

The Virginia State Police worked several crashes in Southwest Virginia Sunday and asked that people avoid traveling unless absolutely necessary.

On Sunday evening, the Virginia Department of Transportation reported that Interstate 81 was blocked at several locations because numerous vehicles were stuck. Backups were reported from the Tennessee/Virginia border to Abingdon, a distance of 20 miles.

“Emergency response teams are working to get those tractor-trailers moving again, but it is a time-consuming, one-by-one process,” VDOT said in a news release.

No roads were completely closed to traffic on Sunday in Southwest Virginia, but problematic areas abounded, such as U.S. Route 23 at Indian Creek Mountain between Wise and Pound. The VDOT Bristol District’s Allen Sumpter said tractor-trailers created a snarl for a time on that steep grade, but eventually VDOT crews were able to work their way around the stuck semis to enable traffic to crawl along again.

"We’ve had pretty much all of our available hired equipment out assisting our crews. We’ve continued to operate full force and also added 4-wheel-drive tractors with plows to our work force, as well as brought in six motor graders,” Sumpter said.

“We still have portions of our primaries in Wise, Dickenson and Scott snow covered and slush. Most of our secondaries are snow covered. Some in Scott are in what we call ‘severe’ condition. We certainly don’t recommend travel at this time.”

Fallen trees have also been problematic across the four counties, but particularly in Scott, Sumper added. “We brought in two tree crews and intend to bring another in (Monday) morning,” he said.

Power outages were also sporadic across the region as the heavy, wet snow took its toll. At 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Kentucky Utilities, parent company of Old Dominion Power Co. that serves much of Southwest Virginia, reported 49 customers without power in Dickenson County, 141 in Lee, four in Russell, two in Scott and 695 in Wise County.

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