In West Virginia, mass feedings planned in wake of storms, heat wave

Updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu July 5, 2012
02:05 - Source: CNN
Food runs low after devastating storms

Story highlights

Many West Virginians are without basic necessities -- food and water

Storm, heat wave have affected food pantries, groceries

Government officials, charities delivering supplies

Red Cross begins feedings in several communities

(CNN) —  

Governments and charities Wednesday rushed critically needed food and water to thousands of hungry West Virginians whose pantries emptied after storms and an accompanying heat wave.

The American Red Cross in West Virginia prepared to hold it first mass feedings in four regions, said Becky Howard, regional chief development officer.

The charity expected to serve the first meals later Wednesday and provide up to 25,000 meals a day beginning Thursday, she told CNN.

The scale of the crisis in the mountainous state was clear.

Utility crews, working in incredible heat, cleared downed lines both on roads and remote mountaintops. A food drive was in its second day. Boil-water advisories were in place in many communities and ice was being trucked in from as far away as Louisiana.

There were “mass dumpings” of spoiled food across the state due to the power outages after last week’s storms, and grocery stores in many areas still could not open due to lack of electricity, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said.

Triple-digit strategies for staying healthy

Officials were sending “about 40 big truckloads of water around the state each day,” he said. “Those affected by the storm are beginning to receive much-needed food.”

Tomblin said about 300,000 customers were without power Wednesday morning. That number dropped to 238,685 by evening.

“One of the biggest challenges is the geography. We are spread out and various pockets across the state have been hit hard,” said Howard.

Charities, including Mountain Mission, stepped in to help neighbors.

“This has really surprised us,” said Mountain Mission’s John Roberts during a stop at the Kanawha City Community Center in Charleston. “I’ve been doing this job for 12 years. We help with a lot of fires, a lot of floods, things like that. This storm snuck up on us.”

Ylonda Wilcox, a storm victim at the shelter, said the ordeal has been extremely difficult. “We went to churches and stuff like that to get some food, but it’s been very hard indeed because you had to go from place to place and then it’s hot.”

“You’re used to being independent and being able to get the food when you need it, when you want it,” Wilcox said. “But right now we’re not able to do that.”

In Nicholas County, east of Charleston, 83% of 12,046 houses remained without power Wednesday, said emergency services director Carla Hennessey. Three communities in the coal-mining county had no power at all.

“This has been the worst disaster that I can remember in the last 20 years,” said Hennessey.

Waits at gas stations in Summersville were nearly 30 minutes at times, down from three hours.

Gadgets to help you survive a power outage

Three grocery stores there can now provide lunch meat.

“If they put bread on the shelf it was your lucky day,” Hennessey told CNN.

The county, with assistance from several parties, is getting food, ice and water to residents.

“It took a little while to get some help,” Hennessey said. “We are getting the help we are needing.”

Some residents in outlying parts of the county may not have power restored for at least another week, she said.

Federal aid – including 100,000 meals, 100 large generators and 50 tractor-trailers of water – was rushed to West Virginia after last week’s storm. Two large food banks in the state ran out of food.

“We have had other pop-up storms almost every evening,” Tomblin said. “So a lot of people have been knocked out again. But we are making progress, and we will continue to work around the clock until we get the electricity back on to everyone.”

Howard said the Red Cross is bringing in an additional 80 people to the state.

“The feeding requests are tremendously starting to increase,” she said.

Mobile feedings will be based in Parkersburg, Lewisburg, Charleston and Summersville. Emergency response vehicles also were deployed.

People react to record temps: ‘It’s not the heat, it’s the stupidity’

Currently, the organization is managing five shelters and supporting 10 others.

“I think it will grow as we ramp up our feeding,” said Howard.

How is extreme heat affecting you? Share your images with CNN iReport.

CNN’s Josh Levs and Jake Carpenter contributed to this report.