OAK HILL, W.Va. — Princeton-native Chad Morton thought if he started his route before the sun came up he might miss the severe storms that gripped West Virginia Wednesday morning and early afternoon.
Morton, a District Sales Representative for Kentucky-based Brown Food Services, began his delivery route at 4:30 Wednesday morning–about two and a half hours earlier than he would normally leave. At first, everything was going according to plan. The lifelong West Virginian–born in Elkins–left Princeton, traveled to Beckley, Lewisburg, White Sulphur Springs, and Snowshoe. As he left Snowshoe and headed to Marlinton, he began to notice the storm clouds.
“I knew that I needed to get out of there and try to get back to Lewisburg and get on the interstate,” Morton said. “I crossed the first mountain, and as I got to the top of that, I could see the rain clouds and the mist where it was pouring the rain in the distance.”
His stop in Marlinton was devoid of severe weather, but that was about to change.
“I get to Hillsboro and all of a sudden there are street signs and roadwork signs being blown across the road, tree limbs just falling everywhere, and literally blowing across the world,” Morton said. “You could see tree limbs on the side just falling. It was a mess.”
“When I get to Hillsboro, my visibility was maybe 20 feet in front of my car. That was it.”
Morton stopped briefly on U.S. 219 South for road work, which is about the time it began to hail.
“It was something else being in my car and hearing the rain and the hail hit my car,” he said. “It was louder than my stereo could be.”
He said the hail was probably smaller than a golf ball, but still packed an audible punch.
Not long after, Morton stopped in Oak Hill as part of his route. At this point, the storms were beginning to taper, but Morton said you could clearly see the damage caused in Oak Hill.
“The wind was terrible,” he said. “A lot of cars had pulled over near the old WalMart building and the McDonalds in the Main Street area. One power line had completely gotten knocked over and was hanging just over the road. I’m surprised it hadn’t fallen completely over.”
The Fayette County 911 Center confirmed that six power poles went down on Main Street in the two-mile stretch between the community of Minden and and Oak Hill.
Morton found similar damage waiting for him when he returned to Princeton.
“There were a couple of roofs of buildings that had completely collapsed,” he said. “It looked like it was a hurricane that had just bent roofs up and laid them on power lines.”
He said there were some similarities to this storm and the 2012 derecho, but conceded that it could have been worse.
“Make sure all your family, friends, and loved ones are safe,” Morton said. “Help out anyone that might need help. That’s what West Virginians do.”
More than 17,000 customers were without power in Fayette County following the storms.
More than 10,000 customers were without power between Mercer, Raleigh, and Greenbrier counties.
Nearly 1200 remain without power in Pocahontas County as of 5 p.m. Wednesday evening.