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Superstorm Sandy: McDonnell: Some issues yet to come

Monday night winds tattered an American Flag outside Richard Seelbach's business on East King Street in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Sally Voth

With the worst of this week's superstorm having moved out of the area, Virginia has been spared much of the destruction faced by its neighbors to the north, Gov. Bob McDonnell said Tuesday afternoon in what he said was likely his last daily briefing on Sandy.

He also announced an extension of filing deadlines for some state licenses and certificates.

"God has really blessed us here in Virginia," McDonnell said during a 1 p.m. press conference/teleconference.

However, he added, "While the worst is over, there still are some concerns remaining."

McDonnell also said two deaths in central Virginia were attributed to Sandy.

Some areas of the commonwealth still have blizzard conditions and warnings, McDonnell said, with some already reporting a foot of snow. Another 12 inches could fall in southwestern Virginia, he said. Rangers with Shenandoah National Park reported Tuesday 12 inches of snow on Skyline Drive.

In Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore, in particular, moderate to minor flooding was continuing, according to McDonnell.

"We actually had a pretty significant event last night with some wraparound winds," he said.

Those necessitated some rescue operations early Tuesday in the Chincoteague area.

"We're still concerned, obviously, about river cresting," McDonnell said.

Some tributaries could need sandbagging as flood waters go into major arteries, he said, and maritime traffic in the Eastern Shore could be treacherous due to gales.

A week ahead of the presidential election, the Republican governor had praise for the Obama administration's handling of the superstorm.

"We've been awarded a federal disaster declaration yesterday," McDonnell said. "I'm delighted that the president and FEMA were on it immediately."

He said he expected to apply for a full public assistance declaration to reimburse the state, and possibly for individual assistance.

Getting the disaster declaration approved within hours was "unprecedented," according to the governor.

"When you have natural disasters, the partisanship goes out the window," he said. "Nobody is concerned about politics when it comes to the weather. I think FEMA has done a very good job.

"Each level of government is doing what they should do. I think the federal government has worked well, and we're pleased at the effort at the state and local level, too."

It's hoped all residents will have their power restored by Thursday night, he said. At the peak of the storm, more than 200,000 customers -- or 400,000 residents -- were without power. By early Tuesday afternoon, that had dropped to 162,000 customers -- the majority being in Northern Virginia -- McDonnell said. The outages were about 15 percent of the levels experienced during the derecho, he said.

And, the storm left 280 roads, mainly secondary, still closed, according to the governor.

With sustained winds maxing out at 30-40 mph, and gusts at 50-60 mph, there was less windpower than that of either Hurricane Irene or this summer's derecho, McDonnell said.

There were 17 shelters still open Tuesday afternoon housing about 529 people, according to the governor.

Virginia Department of Emergency Management Coordinator Michael Cline urged residents to still exercise caution.

"Don't do anything that doesn't have to be done," he said. "Be aware of your situation. Don't get yourself into trouble, and watch your neighbors. If you see somebody that needs your help and you're capable, be a good neighbor."

More than 1,000 Virginia Department of Transportation crews and contractors were working to clear roads, Commissioner Greg Whirley said during the conference.

"We will be relentless in our focus until we clear all the conditions we have," he said.

Whirley said people shouldn't clear trees from the road themselves.

"They may be entangled with power lines," he said.

Instead, they should call 800-FOR-ROAD to report any dangerous situations.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Maureen Dempsey said an emergency closure was issued for the Chesapeake Bay.

"That affects oysters and clams," she said during the teleconference. "It doesn't affect crabs or fin fish."

And, while there haven't been any advisories to boil water, those could occur in low-lying areas with water works served by wells, Dempsey said. Those with private well water and septic systems can contact their local health department with concerns.

McDonnell continued to encourage residents to donate to the American Red Cross or the Virginia Relief Fund.

"People are going to be in need here immediately," McDonnell said.

He said he'd reached out to governors of harder hit states, speaking to the leaders of Maryland and New Jersey and waiting to hear back from New York, to offer help with personnel and equipment.

"They've taken a significant hit," McDonnell said.

To help commonwealth citizens, McDonnell said those with deadlines at the end of October for state permits, licenses or certificates, would get an extension till Nov. 9. That would also apply to contractors' licenses and licenses for various state boards.

The extension also applies to those who will be late filing certain tax and withholding forms if they couldn't do so because of the storm, according to a Tuesday afternoon news release from McDonnell's office.

Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or svoth@nvdaily.com


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