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Jail offers shelter to Va. storm victims

Tuesday - 7/10/2012, 4:19pm  ET

By BARRETT MOHRMANN
The News & Advance

LYNCHBURG, Va. - Eleven days after the windstorm, more than 2,300 Amherst County residents remain without power.

To beat the heat, some chose to stay in an unlikely shelter _ the old Amherst County Jail.

Seventeen people took refuge in the jail Monday morning. At the height of the power outages, the jail housed as many as 40 people.

The old jail, which closed Dec. 31, 2011 after a new regional facility opened in Madison Heights, served a cooling station in the aftermath of the storm.

Empty cells transformed into rooms. Children played in the recreational yard once occupied by prisoners. A crib sat inside a sparse cell.

"Probably over a hundred people have been in and out of here," said Frankie Carroll, an inmate at the Blue Ridge Regional Jail who volunteered at the shelter.

"I know we have given out at least five hundred cases of water."

More than a week after the destructive straight line winds whipped through the Lynchburg area, about 3,500 people remain without power, down substantially from more than 71,000.

Appalachian Power Company Spokesman Larry Jackson said the bulk of the local outages remain in Amherst County due to challenges presented by the county's rural areas and rugged terrain.

Power remained out on parts of Kenmore Road, Sunset Drive and Briarwood Drive near the Town of Amherst and in the western part of the county.

"We've been finding additional damage out in remote areas and off the road," he said.

Some trouble spots were only visible by helicopter surveys.

Significant damage in the Naola area was discovered Friday. Crews worked Monday to repair 10 poles and 40 spans of wire, extending thousands of feet, Jackson said.

The large trucks cannot get to certain places in the county, forcing crews to reset electrical poles manually.

On Monday before noon, 165 power workers were in Amherst County, said Clarence Monday, the county administrator.

The lack of power led Jason Baker and his family to take refuge in the jail since Wednesday.

"I can't imagine some of these people not having this," he said.

As an employee of the Blue Ridge Regional Jail, Baker is no stranger to the setting. But his children and grandchildren find a certain thrill in the old jail.

"In their eyes, they think it's cool. It's something different," he said.

Baker still revisits his mountainside home to bring water to his animals.

Social interaction is the main entertainment at the jail. Baker said he enjoyed getting to know Stephen Richards, a 90-year-old World War II veteran with the US Army Air Corps.

"The most interesting person for me is Mr. Richards," Baker said. "You're eating with a hero."

Stephen Richards and his wife, Nellie, came to shelter to escape the heat.

Nellie Richards said the heat and husband's heart condition made her too nervous to stay at home.

She has enjoyed meeting the other visitors and volunteers.

"We just mingle with the folks," she said. "I haven't met one of them that wasn't nice."

Despite the power outage at home, Nellie Richards continues to volunteer every Monday at Virginia Baptist Hospital.

"They're just remarkable people," Amherst County Social Services Worker Kathy Jones said of the Richards.

Jones said many people have donated supplies to the shelter, including linens, water, and ice.

"It's been a community effort," she said. "I think everyone has just tried to make the best of the situation.

"I appreciate it," Baker said. "Can you imagine not having it? "

Additional power outages occurred in Bedford and Campbell counties following Sunday night's thunderstorm. But by Monday afternoon, less than 100 Southside Electric Cooperative customers in those counties were without power.

___

The News & Advance staff writers Alicia Petska and Scott Marshall contributed to this report. The News & Advance is published in Lynchburg.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)