LEWISBURG, West Virginia (Reuters) - Weary West Virginians dumped rotting food from their refrigerators and tried to clear fallen trees from the roads on Friday as new storms prolonged the power outages that have already lasted a week.
The forecast for the weekend called for more record-breaking heat across the Midwest and into the Eastern United States, with heavy rains and severe storms in the upper Midwest, the National Weather Service said.
The temperature in Chicago hit 100 Fahrenheit (37.7 Celsius) for the third day in a row on Friday, while Nashville, Tennessee, was expected to hit 103 F (39.4 C). For Saturday, forecasters predicted the heat on Saturday in Washington may reach the all-time record for the city of 106 F (41 C).
At least 406,000 people were without electricity on Friday in West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Ohio, power companies said. New storms knocked out power to parts of West Virginia on Thursday, while other areas have been without electricity since violent storms hit a week ago.
Utility companies warned that some residents in the worst-hit areas could be without power and air conditioning until early next week.
A powerful storm felled hundreds of trees and killed two people on Thursday as it whipped through Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
A man riding a motorcycle was killed when a tree limb crashed onto him, said park spokeswoman Melissa Cobern. Another tree fell onto a popular swimming hole, killing a woman and injuring three others, including a 7-year-old girl who was knocked unconscious. The child was pulled from the water, given CPR and taken to a hospital with her father, who suffered broken bones and a collapsed lung.
Crews were still clearing the roads and checking out stranded vehicles in the park.
Just north of Lewisburg, West Virginia, down winding Benedict Lane, huge fallen oaks and other trees covered roads in a neighborhood interspersed with thick woods and open fields.
The area has been without power for a week to run the gas pumps, and locals are struggling to find gasoline to run the back-up generators.
“You couldn’t get gas for two days to run anything,” said Darius Snedegar, a retired 71-year-old truck driver, as he took a break from cutting his lawn. “It ain’t been good at all.”
Sawn tree limbs and other storm debris were stacked in his yard, and a chainsaw whined from a nearby house. “I’ve seen some bad storms but nothing like that,” Snedegar said.
Dollie Gabbert, 64, said she had just finished dumping food from her two refrigerators and two freezers. She was worried about her husband Gene, a 79-year-old diabetic who is on oxygen for heart and lung ailments, she said. Without power, the Gabberts have been using bags of ice to keep his insulin cold.
“We are having a time, having a time,” she said, a miniature flashlight in one hand.
The Gabberts have been able to recharge the batteries for his oxygen pump from a neighbor’s generator and he has been sitting in their truck running the air conditioning to feel more comfortable, she said.
Lewisburg is part of Greenbrier County, where half the homes and businesses were without power. Workers hoped to restore electricity to all 36,000 residents by Sunday night.
Being without electricity “affects everything. It’s something that is beyond my comprehension, it affects so much,” said Emergency Management Director Al Whitaker, who was working from emergency headquarters at a volunteer fire station.
The county had received 230,000 bottles of water from the Federal Emergency Management Agency since Thursday night, and pallet loads filled the station’s truck bays.
In a gravel parking lot, more water was being unloaded from tractor trailers onto public works and fire department trucks for distribution. Water service had been largely restored but residents were being advised to boil tap water before drinking.
About 60 National Guard troops are aiding in the recovery.
Whitaker said the biggest problem was getting enough ice, which was being shipped from Louisiana.
Food, water, Meals Ready to Eat and other supplies were being handed out at nine sites in the county.
At the First Baptist Church in Fairlea, just south of Lewisburg, church volunteers from North Carolina were preparing about 3,000 lunches of macaroni and cheese with ham, peas, pudding and bread. The food was cooked in a kitchen built into a tractor trailer and then put onto Red Cross trucks for distribution or handed out at tents in the steamy parking lot.
“Today makes seven days without power since last Friday, and we don’t have water either,” said Tammy Pickles, a 40-year-old convenience store manager waiting in line with a dozen other people under a hot midday sun for a meal.
She said she had lost $400 to $500 worth of food from her freezer and refrigerator when the power went out.
“Money is really tight,” said Pickles, who has a 12-year-old daughter at home. “I‘m not sure how many more trips I can make out here to get a hot meal. I‘m not sure I can afford the gas.”
Recovery efforts were compounded by miles-long traffic jams as 30,000 to 40,000 fans attended the Greenbrier Classic professional golf tournament in White Sulphur Springs, a few miles to the east, Whitaker said. Power company and tree-trimming trucks were seen sitting in dense traffic on Highway 219, which goes through Lewisburg.
“Our infrastructure is not set up to handle massive amounts of people. It’s just a fact of life,” Whitaker said.
Additional reporting by Scott DiSavino in New York and Timothy Ghianni in Nashville, Writing by Jane Sutton; Editing by Doina Chiacu