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Recovery could take 2 years

Electrical power was slowly being restored Sunday to communities in Virginia and northeastern North Carolina blacked out by Hurricane Isabel but recovery and rebuilding efforts could go on long after the lights come back on.

BY PJ HELLER | NORFOLK, Va. | September 22, 2003


"The task remains Herculean but in less than three days we've restored power to more than half the customers who had their lights turned out by Isabel."

—Jimmy D. Staton


Electrical power was slowly being restored Sunday to communities in Virginia and northeastern North Carolina blacked out by Hurricane Isabel but recovery and rebuilding efforts could go on long after the lights come back on.

"I think it will be a couple of years" before our community is back on its feet, predicted the Rev. Jim Thomas of Trinity United Methodist Church in Poquoson, Va., one of the areas hard hit by Isabel last Thursday.

Poquoson Mayor Gordon Helsel was more optimistic, saying it would probably be months before the town was cleaned up.

Residents in the small coastal town, like countless others elsewhere, continued the massive cleanup task of removing downed trees and tree limbs from their yards, dragging out water-logged carpeting, furniture, appliances and other possessions from their homes and wondering how long it would be before power was restored.

At least 880,000 customers of Dominion Virginia Power were still in the dark Sunday evening, the company reported. It said more than 9,500 workers, including crews from out-of-state utility companies, were working 24 hours a day to restore power in what the company called an "unprecedented" event.

"The task remains Herculean but in less than three days we've restored power to more than half the customers who had their lights turned out by Isabel," said Jimmy D. Staton, senior vice president of operations.

Ice, water, gasoline and charcoal for cooking remained hot ticket items throughout the region. Drivers, some of them who arrived at gas stations as early as 6:30 a.m., sat in long queues waiting to fill their tanks at the few stations that were operating.

Community centers offered free hot showers to residents. Bags of ice were gone in minutes when sold or given away.

If there was good news, it was that the lights were slowly coming back on, that boil water orders had been cancelled and for youngsters, that most schools would be closed on Monday.

Offsetting some of that news was a forecast for more rain beginning Monday night and lasting through Tuesday. Up to half an inch was predicted to fall on the already saturated ground. Nighttime curfews also remained in effect for several communities.

President Bush, meantime, planned to travel Monday to Virginia's Emergency Operations Center in Richmond to be briefed on the disaster. The trip comes just two days after Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge toured Poquoson with other elected officials.

That visit failed to impress Robert and Shirley Miller, whose house now sits under a huge felled tree from the front yard.

"They don't care nothing about me," said 70-year-old Robert Miller of the politicians' visit. "It was all just for a photo op."

One neighborhood youngster said Ridge and his entourage were "window looking" from their vehicles and never stopped to talk with residents.

At churches throughout the area, Sunday services were dominated by talks about the storm.

Some churches, like Trinity United Methodist in Smithfield, moved services out of a darkened sanctuary into a smaller room with enough windows to provide light but little if no ventilation. Parishioners fanned themselves to try to keep cool as the Rev. Harry Spear delivered a sermon questioning "why things happen like this (storm)."

"It's a part of life," he said, noting that some good had come out of the hurricane and the resulting power outage.

"Our technological life is such that it takes something like this to draw us together," he said.

Other churches held similar services either indoors or outside under blue sunny skies.

At Taberncle United Methodist Church in Poquoson, which was inundated with water from Isabel, mold was quickly forming on the carpets in the sanctuary and elsewhere. Sunday services were moved to the social hall, which was on slightly higher ground.

"People are exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally," said the Rev. O.H. Burton after the Tabernacle service. "I think it (the impact of the storm) has not really set in yet."

"Everybody around here is just in survival mode," added Thomas of Trinity United Methodist Church.

Many churchgoers wanted to remain after services to talk about and share their hurricane experiences. Others had more pressing concerns.

"Our 11 a.m. service ended in a hurry because everyone was running out to get ice," Thomas chuckled.

Thomas said he and others were going to a "freezer party" Sunday night to cook and devour food from a friend's freezer before it thawed and was spoiled.

"Everybody they can think of is coming to help eat," he said.

It was just one of several similar gatherings that people planned so they wouldn't have to toss out their food.

Thomas said he planned to bring a bag of ice to the party so people could enjoy cold drinks.

"It's better than showing up with a bottle of wine right now," he said.


Related Topics:

Will storms change climate debate?

Mental health often overlooked

Why did so much rain fall?


More links on Hurricanes

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