It’s officially known as a derecho.
That is the meteorological term for the storm that trampled the Rockbridge area on Friday evening. A derecho (pronounced “deh-REY-cho”), according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is “a widespread, long-lived windstorm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms.
Rockbridge County emergency management coordinator Robert Foresman said winds that blew across Virginia on Friday were estimated at between 60 and 80 miles per hour.
According to the Weather Channel, the storm started Friday morning outside of Chicago as a cluster of thunderstorms. The developing derecho gathered intensity as it stormed east, hitting the Rockbridge area around 9 p.m. Winds raged throughout the area for almost 90 minutes before the storm moved through.
The force of the winds took down trees and snapped off power poles, closing major roads and leaving about 9,000 households or about 75 percent of the people in the area without power, Foresman said. As of Tuesday, a spokesman for Dominion Virginia Power said 3,361 Dominion customers remained without power. BARC Electric Cooperative did not have a specific figure for the Rockbridge area, but reports 4,600 customers still without power in their entire service area that includes portions of Bath, Alleghany, Rockbridge, Highland and Augusta counties.
Updates about power restoration can be found at http://www.facebook. com/BARCElectricCooperative for BARC customers or at http://www.dom.com/storm-center/crew-work-locations.jsp for Dominion customers.
The storm and power outages resulted in at least two structure fires, one on Marshall Street in Lexington that required firefighters to enter the home to rescue a person trapped and incapacitated by smoke inhalation on the second floor. Lexington fire and rescue Chief Ty Dickerson said the person was successfully resuscitated on the front lawn by rescue personnel.
The other fire was on Gun Hill Lane. Firefighters were able to save both houses.
“It was the night from hell; it all happened very quickly,” Dickerson said about Friday night, a sentiment that is probably reflected in the thoughts of firefighters, rescue personnel and law enforcement officers throughout the area as well as power company linemen and public works employees. Fortunately, the only two injuries in the Rockbridge area that were reported by Foresman were to two visitors to the Natural Bridge Hotel who were injured by debris while walking on the nature trail.
Lexington firefighters and rescue workers experienced difficulties accessing houses throughout the night because of the number of downed trees and blocked roads in the city with the greatest damage occurring in the Providence Hill area. There were some tense moments as firefighters worked to reach the house on Marshall Street. Dickerson said they had to resort to driving across a neighbor’s lawn.
When the hot winds blew through Glen Maury Park in Buena Vista, hundreds of campers attending the National Moto Guzzi Rally took shelter at the park’s multi-purpose pavilion behind the Paxton House. Park director Ronnie Coffey, who was home at the time the storm started, said he got to the park just as the winds were dying down around 10:30 p.m. Everyone seemed to make it through the storm unscathed, he said.
There were a number of downed trees at the park, as there were throughout Buena Vista. The city’s streets were mostly clear by Saturday evening, in time for the motorcycle parade that went from the park to downtown and back. Coffey led the parade of approximately 400 motorcyclists because police and other emergency personnel were otherwise occupied in the aftermath of the storm.
Power went out at the park and the golf course, and remained out Monday. While the park office was without power, the campground was open Monday, though the swimming pool was not.
The campus at Virginia Military Institute managed to escape relatively unharmed; however there were over 100 trees downed or damaged beyond saving at Washington and Lee University. W&L spokesman Jeff Hanna reported a major section of the metal Science Center roof was blown down and lesser roof damage was reported to the roofs of Newcomb and Howe halls and at the maintenance shop.
The storm only temporarily abated Friday’s 95 plus degree heat wave that returned with a vengeance on Saturday. With much of the county without electricity, staying cool and hydrated became equally important as clearing roadways. The Red Cross set up a cooling station on Saturday and Sunday at Rockbridge County High School where people could relax in air-conditioned comfort and enjoy bottled water and snacks provided by Wal-Mart. Goshen resident Dee Garrett and her three sons were at RCHS on Saturday. She described her trip home along Va. 39 around 11 p.m. the night before as being like “driving into a war zone. I never have seen anything like it. It was like someone had taken a giant plow and dug up the trees.”
Cooling stations were also opened up at several firehouses around the county over the weekend. On Monday morning Foresman commented, “The big thing now is a lot of people are going into their third day without electricity and it’s really starting to take a toll. It’s important for residents to check on their neighbors because of the risk of heat-related injury or death.” Cooling stations could be found on Monday at South River, Rockbridge Baths, Walkers Creek and Natural Bridge fire departments and at Beth Horon Methodist Church in Natural Bridge Station.
Late Sunday afternoon, Lexington City Manager Jon Ellestad released a statement advising that “all streets in the City of Lexington, with a few exceptions, are open for traffic, but travel widths may be narrower than normal due to debris buildup. Electrical outages are still widespread in numerous areas around the city. There is no good timetable, at this time, for complete resumption of electric service. Please be prepared for service not to be fully restored until the end of the week.”
Lexington City Hall was closed on Monday due to the lack of electrical power. Ellestad said in his statement that it is estimated that it will take many weeks to pick up all the debris left by the storm. Lexington residents can call 462-3717 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. or check the city’s Web site at lexingtonva. gov for updates.
Buena Vista City Manager Jay Scudder said Monday morning that a couple of pockets of power outages remained – residences atop Mapps Hill, and in the vicinity of the park and golf course. The northern end of the city was without power Friday night and Saturday morning. Power never went out in the southern end of the city, in the area of Enderly Heights.
There was no interruption to water or sewer service in Buena Vista. Scudder reported that some well pumps went down, but the water system remained operational, and the pumps have been fixed, said Scudder.
Glasgow Town Manager Ryan Spitzer reported Monday that utilities in the town are operating although water is being pumped directly from the town wells to water customers due to power outages. He said all roads in the town are passable. However, some are limited to one lane. Public works crews began brush pickup on Monday.