Garrett Co. still trying to dig out from Sandy snowstorm

Much of Maryland's westernmost county remained largely inaccessible on Wednesday afternoon, a result of superstorm Sandy's meeting a cold front and dumping more than 2 feet of heavy, wet snow on the region.

About 80 percent of Garrett County residents — or about 24,000 people, according to recent census data — remained without power, and secondary roads remained "completely inaccessible," according to Brad Frantz, the county's emergency services coordinator.

"This is as bad as I've seen it, and I've been in public safety for 38 years," Frantz said. "There are problems with substations and transformers and the whole ball of wax, so it's not as simple as lines down."

The heavy snowfall, which also covered portions of West Virginia, began Monday afternoon and continued into Wednesday afternoon. Towns across the state line in West Virginia saw amounts of snowfall similar to Garrett County's.

A winter storm warning remained in effect for the region until 11 a.m. Thursday, with an additional 3 to 5 inches of snowfall possible, according to the National Weather Service.

Dozens of people in the county remained in shelters. Others remained isolated in their homes, using gas stoves for heat. As the snow melts and drops off tree limbs in coming days, more power lines are likely to be damaged and more residents may need shelter, Frantz said.

Frantz and Margaret "Peggy" Jamison, mayor of Oakland, the Garrett County seat and one of its westernmost towns, said one of the largest contributors to damage in the county has been the hundreds of fallen trees — weighed down by the heavy snow and uprooted out of wet soil.

"In my neighborhood, when I finally was able to get out, it was surprising how many trees needed to be cut from the roads," Jamison said. "They couldn't just plow them. They had to plow, stop, cut the trees, move the trees out of the way, and then get back in the truck and plow again."

Major roads, including Interstate 68, had been reopened and largely cleared, and Jamison said the town's roads have largely been plowed as well. But roads outside population centers remained covered in snow, restricting access for Potomac Edison utility crews.

"We're going to be a little while yet getting unraveled from all of this," Jamison said.

Frantz agreed, saying the trees have severely limited the county's ability to respond to residents and clear secondary roads.

"On county roads, many of them we have not even been able to access yet because of the trees being down and just not having the resources or ability to get into where the trees are down," he said.

Frantz said the temperature had risen above freezing by midday Wednesday, which was compacting the snow. He said he expects a slow melt, which will help prevent flooding but slow the recovery time. Still, the amount of snow may still cause heavy runoff in some areas, he said.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we saw some flash flooding from some small creeks and streams," he said.

Assistance to the county was still trickling in on Wednesday, with state emergency management officials arriving and neighboring Allegany County, which was largely spared by the storm, sending 911 dispatchers to relieve Frantz and his small Garrett staff.

Richard DeVore, director of Allegany's department of emergency services, said the county had about 9,500 power outages at the peak of the storm, but that number had dropped by Wednesday to about 4,500. Some areas of the county, including the Haystack Mountain community, saw lots of downed trees. A foundation of one home was also washed out, he said.

Still, most of the county just saw rain, and damage was nowhere near that seen in Garrett.

Frantz, who on Wednesday afternoon said he hadn't slept since Monday morning, said Garrett residents are resilient and used to snow. Two years ago, the county saw nearly 300 inches of snow during the winter season, he said. Still, Sandy has pounded the county.

"For a single snow event, I've never seen this much impact," he said.

Gov. Martin O'Malley was scheduled to continue touring damaged areas in the state by visiting Garrett County on Thursday to speak with county and local officials in Oakland, as well as visit a shelter in the town, said Raquel Guillory, an O'Malley spokeswoman.

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