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Gatorade And Cheetos: Blackout In Small-Town West Virginia

Members of the Williamsburg Volunteer Fire Department were unable to find fuel at a station in Crawley, W.Va. Elsewhere, people waited in line for hours for the chance to fill up.

hide captionMembers of the Williamsburg Volunteer Fire Department were unable to find fuel at a station in Crawley, W.Va. Elsewhere, people waited in line for hours for the chance to fill up.

Alan Greenblatt/NPR

People who show up at the Shell station in Crawley, W.Va., hoping to find ice, water or a working bathroom are out of luck. With no power to work the pumps, there's no hope of buying gas, either.

Still, a steady stream of customers arrived at the station Sunday evening, picking up snack cakes and 12-packs of Bud Light. A couple of women left the food store with little kids in tow holding Gatorade and Cheetos, which seems like a suitable supper when the food in your home freezer has started to go bad.

Like much of the Mid-Atlantic, this town of about 1,600 residents has been doing without electricity since severe storms passed through Friday night.

Trucking company owner Tod Moss, who lives in the town of Beckley, drove 40 miles to Crawley to bring a few gallons of gas to his employees. "You could get beat up and killed for 5 gallons of gas," he says.

hide captionTrucking company owner Tod Moss, who lives in the town of Beckley, drove 40 miles to Crawley to bring a few gallons of gas to his employees. "You could get beat up and killed for 5 gallons of gas," he says.

Alan Greenblatt/NPR

"It sucks," says Tod Moss, who owns a trucking company. Without fuel, his trucks have been off the road all weekend. "It shut everything down. We haul coal, and the scale house is down. We don't know if it will open in the morning or not."

Prepared For Emergencies

A couple dozen miles to the east, workers had been scrambling to erase any sign of storm damage at The Greenbrier Resort, which is hosting a PGA tournament this week.

Not surprisingly, the Greenbrier — site of an underground bunker, kept secret through much of the Cold War, that had been built to house members of Congress in the event of a nuclear attack — was already well-stocked with generators and food. A hotel spokeswoman said the golf tournament will go on as scheduled, including practice rounds Monday morning and concerts later in the week featuring Rod Stewart, Toby Keith and Bon Jovi.

The weekend storms tore up a tree across the street from the West Virginia DOT division facility in Crawley.

hide captionThe weekend storms tore up a tree across the street from the West Virginia DOT division facility in Crawley.

Alan Greenblatt/NPR

Still, clearing the course required much manual labor. Groundsman Jamie Lusk was wiped out from helping to clear 100 felled trees over the weekend. He stopped by the Shell station in Crawley intending to buy a deodorant stick in lieu of taking a shower. But he heard his sister-in-law had running water, so he was headed over there.

"You need water, with the kind of work we do," says Kevin Knapp, a contractor who spent Sunday clearing trees for MeadWestvaco, a paper company with a location in Rupert, a few miles north of Crawley. "You gotta have it when you're running the power saw. It's rough, especially when it's about 10 degrees hotter than normal."

Ready To Extract

People in this southeastern corner of West Virginia, which is dominated by low, heavily forested mountains, can't remember a time when a summer storm knocked out their power, although a blizzard did cause similar inconvenience for a while a couple of winters ago.

Fifty-three of the state's 55 counties experienced a power loss after the weekend storms, according to state officials.

"I'm from Louisiana, where we have hurricanes," says Jackie Newman, who works at a restaurant in Rupert. "They're not used to this here."

Business was good at Newman's restaurant on Sunday. Her boss brought a gas grill from home and cooked up hamburgers and hot dogs. Those sold fast to people waiting in the two-hour line to buy gas at the Rupert station, which was running pumps on a generator.

It seemed to be the only station selling gas for about 40 miles in any direction. With no power, the Shell station in Crawley was relatively quiet. There was no music and the registers weren't working, so the women working the till used solar-powered calculators to figure out the tax, writing down sales on sheets of paper under columns labeled "candy" and "gum" and "drinks."

Other gas stations were out of ice as far away as Charleston, the state capital, 100 miles to the northwest. There was hardly a hotel room to be had along Interstate 64 between the state's border with Virginia and Lexington, Ky., nearly 300 miles to the west.

Gas stations able to sell fuel didn't seem to be raising their prices above normal, but Moss, the trucking company owner, noted that an empty 5-gallon gas can, which would normally retail for $5 or $6, is now selling for $22.

Trying To Help Out

Most locals aren't happy about living without power for a couple of days, but they're getting by. People at the Shell station told stories about checking on elderly neighbors and feeding travelers who have been stranded without gas. But they worried that the loss of power could last all week.

"It's no big deal; we got a generator up at the house," says Anthony Trout, a security guard visiting the store from neighboring Quinnwood. "But I'm going to go camping the rest of the week."

Not everyone can take off. Jarred Gum, who works as a volunteer fireman in nearby Williamsburg, estimates he's gotten eight hours of sleep over the past couple of nights.

"Out in my community, we've been helping farmers get water to their animals, those that don't have creeks," Gum says.

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