The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
IT’S A HOT MESS OUT THERE
DAMAGE: STORMS FELL TREES, LEAVE THOUSANDS IN THE DARK
EMERGENCY COOLING SHELTERS:
BY CATHY JETT
Cheryl Brady had no luck finding ice at the Giant Food closest to her southern Stafford County home on Saturday.
The grocery store in Town & County shopping center had lost power, just as she had, due to the violent thunderstorms that swept through the state Friday evening.
Brady, who’d stocked her refrigerator earlier in the day on Friday, was one of dozens of shoppers who were able to find bags of ice at the Giant in Eagle Village before noon Saturday. The store was using a generator and was able to take credit cards, but wasn’t selling produce or refrigerated items such as milk.
“I hear there’s another storm coming,” Brady said as she stowed four bags of ice in the trunk of her Mazda. “That’s not good.”
Friday’s storm was officially known as a derecho because of its fast-moving winds, which exceeded 80 miles per hour, and its accompanying thunder and lightning.
It knocked down trees and power lines across the state, leaving more than 1 million utility customers without power in the midst of a sweltering heat wave. It also sparked two house fires in the Lake Anna area and caused six fatalities in Albemarle, Bedford and Fairfax counties.
Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency during a press conference Saturday morning, and said that Virginia is experiencing the largest non-hurricane power outage in the state’s history—and the fifth largest over all.
That afternoon President Barrack Obama called him to ask about the situation and offer federal assistance if necessary in the power restoration and cleanup effort.
Widespread power outages combined with the extremely hot weather forecast for Saturday, today and all through the week have created “a very dangerous situation for Virginia,” the governor said.
At the height of the outage, more than 450,000 Dominion Virginia customers in Northern Virginia lost power—54,300 of them in the Fredericksburg region.
Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, another major provider for this area, had 69,000 customers in 22 counties without power at the high point of its outages. Of those, 17,018 were in the Fredericksburg area, said spokeswoman Ann Lewis. Bowling Green and Culpeper were especially hard hit.
Outages for Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative customers in Stafford peaked at 5,241. For Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, the peak was about 200 customers. The majority, 116, were in Stafford County.
Fredericksburg and the surrounding counties opened cooling shelters yesterday for residents whose power remained out.
Since pets aren’t normally allowed in these shelters, the PetSmarts in Central Park, Cosner’s Corner and southern Stafford invited people to bring in their animals during operating hours.
Fredericksburg resident Rebecca Brindley went to the cooling center at Hugh Mercer Elementary School around 3 p.m. Saturday. The power had not returned in her home and, “it was pretty toasty,” she said.
Her children, 8-year-old Beryl and 6-year-old John, were not just enjoying the air conditioning in the Hugh Mercer gym. They were playing hockey.
“They found some balls, and the staff set up chairs as a goal and found them hockey sticks,” Brindley said. “It was a concerted effort.”
People who tried to get into the Massad Family Branch YMCA in Stafford to cool off in the facility’s water park, however, were out of luck. It was closed due to the power outage.
“I’ve been here since 6 looking at the situation and have been turning people away all morning,” said executive director Holly Bean.
The staff even had to place traffic cones at the drive to the pool to show it was closed.
Employees at that branch of the YMCA had to rely on their personal phones to get out news of the outage, since they could not use the office phones or access their webpage.
They did not regain power until after 4 p.m. and with so much cleanup to do, could not open the facility.
Residents in Stafford had their own cleanup to do.
One resident, Zac Ashley, was not able to start cleaning until nearly 3 p.m. As assistant pastor at Mount Ararat Baptist Church, Ashley had a funeral in the morning.
However, without electricity inside the church, the service had to be moved outside.
“There was a volunteer crew to clean up the debris, and it turned out to be really nice,” he said.
A maple tree fell in Ashley’s Greenridge backyard, just scraping the back of the house.
“The lights flickered and went out,” he said. “The wind was constant. I didn’t know if it was a tornado or what. I heard the tree hit and thud but couldn’t see outside because of the rain.”
Another Stafford resident, Ray Stuchell, 65, who lives near Aquia Harbour, said the recovery has been hard.
“I stood in line at Home Depot for an hour to rent a chain saw and got the last one,” he said, “I also saw someone get the last generator.”
Other area hardware stores experienced the same run on supplies.
Lowe’s in Central Park was out of generators within 30 minutes of opening. Assistant store manager Norman Vest said they were also out of portable fans and D batteries.
“We still have a little water,” he said. “But that’s going fast.”
The store is currently trying to obtain more generators since the next few days will be just as hot and stormy.
“If we have the product, it’ll be gone,” he said.
In the Sylvania Heights neighborhood of Spotsylvania, the streets were lined with downed trees and power lines from Friday night’s storm.
Neighbors were sitting on their front porches because they had no power.
Sean Sutphin, 25, said there were branches and lots of debris in his backyard.
Sutphin said he lost power at about 9:45 p.m. when the storm began.
“When it came, it came,” Woods said. “It seemed like it hit us from out of nowhere.”
Other residents of Mansfield Street said they didn’t expect the storm to be that bad.
Esther Menard said she heard the 20-foot branch split from the tree at the house next door.
“It was very devastating,” she said.
She said she could hear debris hitting her house, which ended up with three holes in the roof.
The threat of another storm and the near-100-degree heat kept attendance light at Spotsylvania’s Stars and Stripes Spectacular event Saturday night.
After the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area in the evening, officials urged the smaller-than-usual crowd to take shelter.
So everyone headed to their cars and inside nearby buildings to wait for the rain.
But before the storm threatened, Jim Armstrong and his family were enjoying the afternoon, despite the heat.
Armstrong said the family came to the event to have a good time and it wasn’t too hot for them. They were some of the few who had a cool, air-conditioned house to go home to afterward.
Staff from Spotsylvania County’s utilities department sought shelter under the comfort of tents while they handed out free bottles of water to passers-by. They brought 3,000 and kept them cold, but worried that it wouldn’t be enough.
Culpeper didn’t receive much rain during Friday night’s storms—about a half inch at most—but winds there measured between 60 and 70 mph at times.
Gusts blew a lamppost off its base and knocked it over on Davis Street at Main Street.
A Gordonsville resident reported that winds were so strong, they bent the 20-foot-tall pipe supporting his TV antenna—though his porch chairs remained untouched.
At the height of the storm, 11 roads in the Culpeper region were blocked Friday night, mostly by downed trees, according to emergency services personnel.
A tree fell on a house in Rappahannock near Casselton and split the building in half.
No injuries were reported there.
Staff writers Lindley Estes, Donnie Johnston and Robyn Sidersky contributed to this report.
Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407