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ASHEVILLE — Even as the weekend's winter storm wound down, thousands remained without power in Western North Carolina.

Bill Norton, a Duke Energy spokesperson who's been working in the field with repair crews, said fresh snowfall Monday morning complicated repair efforts. 

He was admittedly a little cold, he said via phone, as he followed a damage assessor through a frosty, remote area of Candler.

"We're in very mountainous terrain, trying to get to a power line to know what the damage is," he said. 

It's possible Duke field crews could be making repairs just like this one through the end of the week, with power potentially out for days in some areas.

Power out for thousands

As of midmorning Monday, 7,900 households were without power in Buncombe County, along with 4,700 in Henderson County.

Madison County, however, was "looking good," said Erin Culbert, a spokeswoman for Duke Energy. As of 9:30 a.m., only one unlucky customer there appeared to be without power.

Read more: Monday Asheville snow update: NWS extends winter storm warning after overnight snow

Read more: At least 2 dead after weekend snow storm, NC governor says

In the state, 125,700 remained without power Monday morning. More than 300,000 customers had power restored by crews working day and night through the weekend. 

"Restorations are coming along nicely," she said, adding that repairs were being made even as crews worked to troubleshoot damaged equipment. "By (Tuesday) evening, we should have a really good idea of how long folks in WNC will be out."

New snow making work harder

The new snowfall had not slowed crews, but had done a number on trees and secondary roads, Norton said Monday morning.

"Our biggest challenge right now is secondary roads and getting back to the more challenging repairs. We’re working hard to assess the remaining repairs as quickly as possible." 

Norton said crews have restored power to about 36,000 customers in Buncombe County alone. 

"That number is higher than the peak outages, because as we’ve made some repairs, other outages have followed," he added. 

Nine thousand boots on the ground

Repair work is literally an uphill climb.

On Monday afternoon, Norton watched a damage assessor scale a snowy hill by foot to get to one damaged line.

"When customers are frustrated their power is not on, with no estimated time of restoration, that's why," Norton said.  

Duke has 9,000 boots on the ground, some trudging through snow to assess whether or not a tree crew is needed. 

"We can't send them to the next job until they've done their assessment — but we know our customers are depending on us to get the power back on."

Repair time estimates could take days

In some cases, Norton said, estimated repair times might not be released until Tuesday or even later.

The reasons for the delays are many.

Single jobs can take up to eight hours, including one downed pole "absolutely shattered" behind the Valley View Shopping Center, perilously close to a creek. 

Norton explained how workers spent hours bridging the line to help restore power to a nearby neighborhood, then worked on a temporary fix for the shopping center so power could flow while they found a more permanent solution. 

"Now multiply that by hundreds of scenarios across the county," he said. 

Dangerously cold temperatures ahead

Nighttime temps will be dangerous this week, with lows in the 20s and 30s expected. 

Norton recommended those without power follow state guidelines to determine whether or not to shelter in place. 

In West Asheville, an emergency shelter opened over the weekend at Trinity Baptist Church, 216 Shelburne Road.

"Unfortunately, in some areas the power still won't be on, and people should plan accordingly," Norton said. 

He didn't know which areas would go the longest without power, though Duke crews were prepared to make Diego-related repairs through the end of the week. 

By Monday afternoon, Duke crews had restored 504,000 outages, but more were occurring all the while.

Norton said he knew customers were frustrated. 

"Thank you for your patience," he said. "Our biggest priority is getting lineman to the job safely, so they can make the repairs safely and get to the next job safely — safety is our first priority, and we're working as hard as we can to make sure the job's done right."

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The Tracey family enjoys the snow in Haw Creek with some sledding. Angeli Wright, awright@citizen-times.com

 

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