Gas, heat knocked out for 450 in south Parkersburg

PARKERSBURG – Outside Rodney Conley’s 10th Avenue home around noon Wednesday, the temperature was about 22 degrees.

Inside, with the help of a kerosene heater and electric fireplace, the temperature had finally climbed above 50.

“I got up freezing,” he said.

He wasn’t the only one as approximately 450 Dominion Hope natural gas customers around the Elder Street area of south Parkersburg awoke early Wednesday to find they had no heat on a morning when the temperature hit zero, according to National Weather Service data.

Dominion Hope spokesman Bob Fulton attributed the outage to water entering the lines. Gas company employees and contractors were combing the neighborhood Wednesday morning, making sure individual gas connections were turned off and trying to locate the point of infiltration.

By Wednesday afternoon, Fulton said the source had been traced to a crack or break in a line near where the Parkersburg Utility Board recently fixed a water line break in the vicinity of 13th and Broadway avenues. Fulton said that could have been the means by which water entered the system, but said it was caused only by proximity and not the repair work.

“Just quite a coincidence that that would happen,” he said.

Around 10 p.m., Fulton said the break had been repaired and crews were performing the process of removing water from the lines. At that point, there was no projected timetable for restoring service for customers.

“Depends on the complexity of the process,” Fulton said. “We’re going to get to it as quickly as we can.”

About 40 workers had been brought in from the Clarksburg, Morgantown and Weston areas to work on the problem, Fulton said. More workers were scheduled to arrive today for a new shift, and the company made hotel reservations, anticipating the need for workers to remain in the area overnight.

Residents were deploying electric, kerosene and propane space heaters in their homes when they had them available and checking on elderly neighbors to make sure they had access to such devices.

“I’m not so concerned about us … but there’s so many older ones,” said Ninth Avenue resident Jerry Morton. “I’m 82, but I’m one of the younger ones.”

Morton said she and her husband James went shopping for portable heaters to get them through while the gas was off, but they mostly came up empty.

“I don’t know how many places we went in town looking for space heaters,” she said.

They ended up with one – minus an instruction book – and their son brought a couple of loaners over to them early Wednesday evening.

Multiple residents in the affected area reported the same problem.

Some folks weren’t planning on trying to weather the cold.

After retreating to the warmth of her electric blanket Wednesday morning, 10th Avenue resident Angela Lee took her dog Zoey over to her sister’s house.

“She said come on over,” Lee said. “We won’t be able to sleep in our homes” if the service wasn’t restored Wednesday night.

Thomas Burke wasn’t even staying in town to see when the heat would be back on at his Eighth Avenue and Elder Street home.

“I’m heading to Charleston. I’m staying at a friend’s house,” he said. “Hot shower. Hot food.”

Whether people were leaving or staying put, Eric Bennett, manager of the Parkersburg Utility Board, recommended they leave their water running at “a slow-stream drip, to keep it moving” in an effort to avoid pipes freezing or bursting.

Parkersburg Fire Department Capt. Tim Flinn advised people using space heaters to keep them a safe distance – at least three feet, but usually more with larger units – from combustible items. They should also make sure the devices don’t overtax their electrical system, keeping them on different breakers, if possible, from major appliances.

“The big thing people don’t realize is how much electric they’re pulling,” Flinn said.

Residents should be alert for sounds of sizzling or whirring coming from their breaker box to indicate a potential problem, Flinn said. Installing a smoke detector near the breaker box is a good idea in general, he added.

Warming stations were established at the city fire stations on Camden Avenue and Blizzard Drive, but as of 4:30 p.m., no one had taken advantage of them, said Ed Hupp, Wood County emergency management director.

The county 911 Center received three calls from people in the affected area, and they were looking for information, not in distress. However, Hupp said anyone in need of assistance can contact the center at 304-485-8501.

Dominion workers will go to individual homes to turn on the gas and check appliances once service is restored, Fulton said.

The company plans to send out calls to the affected area to update customers on the situation before that happens. They are also keeping in contact with local emergency services and media to keep people updated on the process, he said.