Superstorm Sandy blizzard warning as Appalachia storm blows
ELKINS, W.Va. • Wet snow and high winds spinning off the edge of superstorm Sandy spread blizzard conditions over parts of West Virginia and neighboring Appalachian states Tuesday, shutting one interstate as trucks and cars bogged down and knocking out power to many.
The National Weather Service said a foot and more of snow was reported in lower elevations of West Virginia, where most towns and roads are. High elevations in the mountains were getting more than two feet and a blizzard warning for more than a dozen counties was in effect until Wednesday afternoon.
At least 236,000 customers were without power in West Virginia early Tuesday. In Elkins, a city of about 7,000 people, power went out across town before dawn and the only lights were from passing snow plows as heavy, wet flakes piled up to about 8 inches.
The roofs of at least three homes collapsed under the weight of heavy snow, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said. No injuries were reported in the Tuesday accidents in Nicholas County. West Virginia National Guard troops helped the residents of the homes get to local shelters.
Tomblin says there's been no word of additional deaths or any serious injuries. Officials earlier reported a woman was killed Monday in a storm-related traffic accident in an area where about 5 inches of snow had fallen.
The governor is urging residents to stay off the roads. That will prevent mishaps and allow National Guard, Division of Highways and Division of Forestry crews to clear felled trees for utility repair workers.
Tomblin says forecasters estimate that the storm's brunt should clear the state by nightfall.
Authorities closed nearly 50 miles of Interstate 68 on either side of the West Virginia-Maryland state line for hours early Tuesday because of blizzard conditions and stuck vehicles.
More than 30 other highways and roads were closed in West Virginia by snow, ice, high water, and downed trees and power lines. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Leslie Fitzwater said. Schools were closed in at least 39 counties. Police rescued several stranded motorists on the interstate in West Virginia.
"It's a mess out there and people should stay home if they can until our first responders can get out there, clear the roads and get to those who need the most assistance," Fitzwater said.
On the Maryland side of I-68, a foot of snow triggered closures along a 40-mile stretch between LaVale and the West Virginia line.
Several westbound tractor-trailers jackknifed on Big Savage Mountain. Maryland State Police Sgt. Brian Broadwater said about 200 vehicles backed up behind the trucks. Travelers were turned around or detoured onto two-lane state highways that were also treacherous, prompting many to check into motels.
The depth of the early snow surprised some Appalachian residents in eastern Kentucky.
A tree heavy with snow fell on Claude Collier's truck Monday night in Jenkins, Ky. Collier, 50, says he has "never seen this much snow this early in the year." He said he and other residents lost power in the storm.
The storm also covered parts of the Virginia highlands, northeast Tennessee and northwest North Carolina.
At Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, park spokeswoman Dana Soehn reported 22 inches of snow at the highest elevations, with strong winds blowing drifts up to 4 feet deep.
Roads were closed throughout the park and a handful of hikers coming off sections of the Appalachian Trial on Tuesday morning reporting tangles of fallen trees and waist-deep drifts.
"We don't know exactly how many people are still up there, but we've not received any distress calls," Soehn said. "It's that heavy, wet snow, so it is difficult to plow."