After Friday's massive wind storm blew through the Belpre area, Mayor Mike Lorentz said he felt like the community was isolated from the rest of Washington County.
"We had no communications and it was so frustrating-even cell phones weren't working," he said. "And by the time we did receive some communication we were already getting a lot of things done by ourselves."
Lorentz said his first contact with anyone outside the city was with Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks on Saturday. He said the sheriff's office hauled water to the city at least three times over the weekend.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Washington County Sheriff’s clerk Jacinda Carr, left, hands a case of bottled water to Vincent resident Marie Smith Tuesday. Smith has been without power since Friday night’s storm.
"We didn't have contact with most other county offices until (Monday)," he said. "By that time we had taken care of almost everything. I figured if we were in this thing we could get ourselves out."
A cooling station and overnight shelter area was set up for citizens where volunteers served dinner to more than 200 people Monday night.
"We've also fed our police, firefighters and city crews," Lorentz said.
At a glance
AEP Ohio customers without power at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday:
More information at http://www.aepohio.com/
AEP requests anyone using generators to contact the company first via the website or call 1-800-672-2231.
Washington Electric Cooperative reported via Facebook that 1,200 customers had power restored Monday, and another 250 were restored Tuesday. The coop reported about 5,500 customers were without power at 6:30 p.m. Monday. More information is available during business hours at 373-2141.
Washington County Sheriff's Office personnel were delivering water and ice to outlying areas of the county on Tuesday.
Call 376-7070, ext. 0 for information and assistance with storm-related issues.
The Washington County Chapter of the American Red Cross is operating a cooling station with water and ice at the chapter house at 401 Fourth St. in Marietta. Call 740-373-0281 for more information.
The boil water advisory has been lifted for the city of Marietta, but residents are still requested to conserve water usage as city water tanks are not yet filled to capacity.
Marietta residents who are still without power or who have concerns about tree limbs on power lines should contact Marietta City Hall at 373-1387. More city information is available at http://www.mariettaoh.net/
The widespread power outage created by Friday's windstorm made relaying information to the public difficult enough, but Washington County's Emergency Management Agency also faced a unique last-minute situation of its own.
Due to a generator fire that occurred at the county courthouse annex Saturday, the emergency operations center, normally located in a well-equipped room at the annex, had to be relocated to the second floor of the Washington County Sheriff's dispatch office on Fourth Street in Marietta.
"The backup generator killed all of our Internet connections, and sheriff's office personnel were back to pens and pads to jot down critical information," said EMA Director Jeff Lauer. "We made it work, but we didn't have access to some of our usual resources."
He said the county maintains an emergency operations plan that covers power outages.
"It's a living document that we always follow, but we had some unique challenges during this outage with not only county-wide, but state-wide issues with phone communications," Lauer said.
The plan also includes contacting local media outlets to provide the public with information about where to go for assistance if there's damage to a home or where to find shelter, food and water.
"We did some communication about those things, but perhaps did not do as good a job as we could have," Lauer said, noting that area radio stations were a big help in getting the word out.
But he added that citizens should also be prepared to help themselves in such emergencies.
"There's no way we have nearly enough first responders to take care of everyone," Lauer said. "And we need to get more word out about preparations for emergencies like checking and changing batteries in radios and flashlights regularly, keeping extra fresh water on hand, and stocking up on extra canned foods."
Tamara McBride, internal and external affairs officer with the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, agreed.
"We all rely on television and radio to get our messages out, and you don't have those when the power goes out, but we also have to hope people have heeded our messages about preparing for these situations when their televisions and radios are working," she said.
McBride said every Ohio county has an emergency operations plan and regular exercises are conducted with local partners, including fire departments, police, sheriff's offices and other agencies.
"I think these emergency plans address most issues, including power outages," she said. "But when the power is down and you have to rely on secondary forms of communication, it can take much longer to get information out to the public."
Marshall Scott, of Marietta, said some information would have been helpful after Friday's storm.
"I didn't hear about anyplace to get food or water right after the storm," he said. "They told people not to drink the city water, but not where we could get drinking water."
Scott said local government should have a communication plan in place.
"From the mayor and city council to the county commissioners, they should have been better prepared," he said.
Devola resident Amy Morgan said she appreciated local radio stations that tried to provide accurate information following the storm. But the power outage made most communications difficult.
"How do you communicate with no phone and no power?" she asked. "I do think they could make some improvements, especially when it comes to the elderly or people on oxygen. Someone should be checking on them."
Morgan suggested forming crews that could go door to door in residential areas to see if people need help when power outages prevent other forms of communication.
Beverly Mayor Rex Kenyon said his village lost electricity for about 24 hours following the storm.
"We called the sheriff's office and told them what needs we had, and they were pretty responsive," he said. "But we couldn't get timely information from the power company. We had to call their toll-free number and listen to a recording about the power outages, so it was difficult for us to plan ahead for when our power would be restored."
Like Lorentz, Kenyon said the Beverly community became somewhat self-reliant, doing needed repairs and cleanup of tree limbs and other debris.
"Our staff responded extremely well during this time," he said. "And we're looking at this as a good learning situation."
In Marietta, Mayor Joe Matthews said he was on local radio and television following the storm, trying to keep residents up to date on the latest developments.
"But with the power outage a lot of televisions and radios may not have been working," he said. "We wanted to get word out about where power was off in the city and where to get water and cool down."
Matthews said the city hasn't required help from the state at this time, but a state of emergency was declared at 9:30 p.m. Friday and will continue until recovery from the storm is complete.
"That allows us to get help through reimbursement for what this storm has cost the city," he said. "Hopefully we'll get some reimbursement."
The mayor noted that for a couple of months the administration has been working to re-establish an "E-Ready" team to help address emergencies within the city.
"We had a similar system in place previously when I was mayor, but the last administration did not make much use of it," he said. "The team would work in conjunction with the county, but we each have our own needs, and this could help take some of the burden off the county."
Matthews said the team would include representatives from the police, fire and engineering departments. He said there have already been two or three meetings focused on forming the E-Ready group.
During a special meeting on Monday, Marietta City Council members also discussed the need to review the response to Friday's storm.
"When all of this is over, we should have a post-mortem to see if there is a better way that we can do things," said council president Walt Brothers.
Councilman Michael Mullen, I-at large, agreed.
"There are probably some significant infrastructure pieces, like more generators," he said. "But we really need to look at this while it's still fresh."