By MATTHEW UMSTEAD
7:47 PM EDT, November 2, 2012
Members of the West Virginia Air National Guard based in Berkeley County are flying bucket trucks and other equipment from Phoenix, Ariz., to a guard base in Newburgh, N.Y., to assist in Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts in the Northeast.
Four loads of equipment are due to be transported by the Guard unit’s C-5 aircraft beginning Friday, said Col. Roger Nye, commander of the 167th Airlift Wing.
In a separate relief mission, more than 90 members of the West Virginia National Guard are distributing food and water from the base at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport to thousands of residents in areas where deep, wet snow from the storm downed trees, blocked roads and left them without power.
Three large military trucks loaded with self-heating emergency meals and liters of water left the base Friday morning, bound for counties that were particularly hard hit, military officials said.
Joseph D’Angelo of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said more 306,000 liters of water and slightly less than 300,000 meals had been delivered to the 167th Airlift Wing base for distribution.
An increase of tractor trailers coming to the base carrying FEMA supplies is expected to increase over the next few days, officials said.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, and state Adjutant General James A. Hoyer visited the Airlift Wing Friday morning to review how the base is being used as a staging area for the relief effort.
Tomblin said in a press briefing at the base that eight to 10 counties still had a lot of power outages and trees were still falling due to the snow, complicating relief efforts.
The number of homes and businesses without electricity dropped below 100,000 Friday after being nearly 500,000 earlier this week, but emergency officials remain concerned about reaching those cut off the outside world by the storm, Tomblin noted.
West Virginia Army National Guard Lt. Col. Brian Parcell Army said he and several of the guard members involved in the relief effort were among thousands who lost power as a result of the heavy snowfall.
Statewide, the National Guard has activated 540 guardsmen and the 130th Airlift Wing based in Charleston also is serving as a staging center for distributing supplies received from FEMA, officials said.
Parcell said he lost power at his Upshur County home Monday evening and it had yet to be restored. More than two feet of snow had fallen there and downed trees were “everywhere.”
Tomblin said he could not say enough about the dedication of first responders, Red Cross volunteers and West Virginians who have reached out to help their neighbors in the storm’s wake, which has been blamed for at least six deaths in the state.
Manchin, who joined Tomblin for a tour of impacted areas across the state for a third consecutive day, said he called Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Friday morning to urge the federal government to provide more disaster assistance.
“If we get that (disaster) declaration approval today — that will go a long way,” Manchin said.
Tomblin and Manchin both indicated they have been pleased by the federal government’s response to the state’s request for help and briefly discussed the possibility of the 167th Airlift Wing base being considered a permanent site for FEMA-supported operations in the future.
Tomblin said the derecho that caused widespread damage and power outages this summer across the state helped “a great deal” in preparing for Superstorm Sandy, which struck after much more advance warning than the line of violent, fast-moving thunderstorms.
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