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Ice plunges area into darkness

South Boston News
Line crews with River City Electric in Washington, N.C. made repairs to power lines in the Union Level area on Sunday. Power went out all over Mecklenburg County in the wake of the Valentine’s Day storm, and grocery stores in Chase City and South Hill were forced to throw out perishables when electricity for refrigeration went out. (Steve Hinzman photo) / February 17, 2021
More than 25,000 homes in Mecklenburg, Brunswick and Halifax counties lost power Saturday, part of what Dominion Virginia Energy is calling the worst ice storm to hit Virginia in two decades.

Charlotte and Lunenburg counties were equally stricken by power outages, with Dominion reporting that nearly all of its customers in Lunenburg lost electricity Saturday and much of the day Sunday.

Schools in Mecklenburg County closed for both in-person and virtual learning Monday and Tuesday due to outages at the schools themselves and at homes across the county. With nearly 2,000 homes still without power Tuesday afternoon and weather forecasters expecting a second storm to blanket the area starting Wednesday night, Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols opted to close schools for both virtual and in-person learning through Friday.

The Mecklenburg County School Board meeting that typically takes place on the third Monday of the month was delayed until Tuesday. Nichols said it could not be pushed back further because school trustees need to approve a proposed school budget ahead of a planned public hearing set for Thursday.

Freezing rain and ice accumulation wreaked significant damage to utilities, including broken poles and hundreds of downed power lines.

By midday Saturday, Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative was reporting outages in more than 11,000 homes across the tri-county area of Brunswick, Mecklenburg and Halifax — 3,126 in Mecklenburg. Dominion Energy confirmed that nearly 15,000 of its customers in Mecklenburg, Halifax and Brunswick had lost power.

Crews from Tennessee were brought in to help repair power lines and poles. By late Tuesday afternoon, approximately 1,700 customers of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, Dominion Energy, Southside Electric Cooperative and Danville Utilities, the four companies that provide electricity to homes and businesses in the area, were waiting to have their power restored.

Officials with both companies said crews were working as safely and quickly as possible.

Dominion officials urged folks to stay away from downed power lines — assume they are energized and dangerous. Keep family members, neighbors and pets a minimum of 30 feet away and call the company immediately at 1-866-DOM-HELP (1-866-366-4357). For Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative members, call 1-877-MECKOUT.

Households with a generator are encouraged to be sure the units are fueled, tested, and properly connected. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and always operate outdoors with good ventilation. Improper use of a generator could be life-threatening for customers and for line crews working to restore power.

MEC, on its phone tip line, cautions against using a gas-powered oven for heating. A gas oven may go out or burn inefficiently, leading to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Power outages at Food Lion stores in South Hill and Chase City and Walmart in South Hill forced those stores to dispose of cold food items. Under CDC guidelines, it is not safe to sell or eat perishable foods — meat, dairy, produce and frozen foods — that reach temperatures above 40 degrees, or were stored in freezers that were without power for four hours or more.

A customer service representative for Food Lion confirmed that three of the four Food Lion stores in Mecklenburg County — those in South Hill and Chase City, but not the one in Clarksville — experienced a power loss that impacted their perishable foods. By late Tuesday, the South Hill Food Lion on West Atlantic Street (Highway 47) was in the process of restocking the shelves, but the store at 715 E. Atlantic Street was still waiting on repairs to its freezer units before restocking could begin.

Calls to the Walmart in South Hill and the Food Lion in Chase City went unanswered.

Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller added their cautionary note on the frigid weather that has settled over Virginia. “As temperatures drop below freezing overnight, wet roads become extremely icy and treacherous. Virginians are advised to avoid travel overnight due to slick conditions and the increased potential for fallen trees, power lines, etc.”

Between noon and 9 p.m. Saturday, state troopers in the Appomattox Division, which includes Mecklenburg, Halifax, Charlotte and Lunenburg counties responded to 14 calls involving disabled vehicles and 45 crashes, none of them fatal.

South Hill Fire Chief Michael Vaughan said firefighters in South Hill responded to more than 200 emergency calls due to vehicle and property damage over the weekend.

“We have had some very grueling calls during these past 24 hours and are not out of the woods yet,” wrote Vaughan on the SHVFD social media page. “We want to thank all of the first responders, VDOT, Street Crews, and E-911 dispatchers for handling the calls for service for the ones who needed us during this winter weather event. I also want to say I am truly honored to serve as Chief, with such a dedicated group of volunteers and the ladies who have stayed behind and prepares us snacks and meals to keep us going. I also want to thank the businesses in South Hill for providing much needed supplies and the South Hill Chamber of Commerce for their support.”

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