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Crews aim to restore power in region

Without a backhoe, linemen setting up new electric poles in Louisa County would have spent even longer digging in the muddy snow Thursday.

And even with that heavy machinery, they worked slower than they’re used to, since these specific downed power lines—they make up a main feeder line from a substation into Louisa—fell in a hollow, along a slushy path, away from a main road and in a spot inaccessible for regular trucks.

“That backhoe is going to save our life,” said Mickey Burnette of Davis H. Elliot, a Roanoke-based power company, as it bumped over the snow and mud with a new 40-foot pole.

The other option would have been for the crew to do all the work by hand.

For much of Thursday, crews worked to clear trees, put up new crossbars on electric poles, dig 6-foot holes and re-string the 7,200-volt wires that carry power from substations into the region’s homes.

They were among the 400 or so workers with Rappahannock Electric Cooperative putting lights and heat back in homes this week after Wednesday’s storm dumped several inches of heavy, wet snow on the region.

“It’s all hands on deck when we get to a catastrophic event like this,” said communications director Ann Lewis.

Louisa, Culpeper and Spotsylvania counties were hardest hit, followed by Madison and Orange.

At the start of Thursday, 46,000 REC customers were still without power; that dropped to about 31,500 of a total 152,000 customers by Thursday evening. Roughly 20,000 of the customers without power were in Caroline, Culpeper, Fauquier, Louisa, Orange and Spotsylvania counties.

Some may not have electricity until Sunday.

Dominion Virginia was reporting about 1,000 customers in Fauquier, Spotsylvania and King George without power Thursday night. Meanwhile, the Northern Neck Electric Cooperative listed only two customers in Westmoreland County without power, while Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative reported only one remaining outage in Fauquier.

In Louisa, linemen from the Roanoke company straightened out the new pole and prepared to re-connect two wires still lying on the ground, and splice together two others.

But that doesn’t mean they were ready to flip a switch quite yet.

“There’s still quite a bit of damage down the line,” REC relay technician David Good said about the Louisa feeder line.

Because REC covers such a geographically large area made up of 22 counties—with quite a bit of “windshield time” between sites—repairs can take longer than customers hope.

Around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Peggy Royster’s power was zapped. She and her husband had been “sitting around doing nothing” at their home on Beaverdam Road, in northern Hanover County, she said Thursday afternoon.

That’s when she saw a group of REC workers at a gas station and asked when her power would be back.

She was told hopefully within an hour, or at least before dark.

“I can understand they’re working hard,” she said. “I just want my power back on, that’s all.”

Her living room was at least a little warmer with a wood stove.

“The back of the house is chilly but not too cold,” she said.

The workers advised her to flip all electronics off to avoid overloading the system when power starts to flow again.

“It really helps to turn it off and turn your stuff back on one at a time,” said Richard Covington of REC.

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975