Sandy loosens grip on Va., leaves a snowy souvenir

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Superstorm Sandy slowly loosened its grip on Virginia Tuesday with skies brightening and rain abating in the east, but a freakish fall blizzard burying the state's mountainous west in deep snow.

Sandy was blamed for two Virginia deaths, moderate damage and only a fraction of the power outages the state suffered in late June from a violent inland windstorm. New Jersey, New York and other northeastern states fared far worse.

"God has really blessed us here in Virginia," Gov. Bob McDonnell said in what he called the last news conference scheduled to discuss the late-season hurricane.

Virginia suffered minor tidal flooding and some inland flooding from soaking rains that pelted the state, pushing creeks and marshes over low-lying roads.

Two Richmond men died early Tuesday in a car crash that police blamed on speed as well as storm conditions. Keith D. Fordham, 52, and Michael T. Overton, 51, were killed when the vehicle Fordham was driving struck a utility pole in Richmond.

About 200,000 power customers remained dark as of Tuesday afternoon — the majority in northern Virginia — and all power should be fully restored by Thursday, officials from three utilities that serve the state said at a news conference with McDonnell in Richmond.

"I'd note that these are a lot of people without power, but compared to the derecho, which was the third-largest outage event in the history of the state this summer, we had about 1.2 million people without power, so this is about 15 percent of the power outage we experienced from that set of storms," McDonnell said.

All state agencies, closed the first two days of the week, would reopen on Wednesday, McDonnell said. People who had end-of-October deadlines to renew licenses or permits such as drivers' licenses will get a reprieve until Nov. 9. And penalties and interest on any individual or business tax returns that are filed late as a result of storm damage will be waived.

Nine of the state's 134 local election registrars were closed Tuesday because of power outages, McDonnell said. All should be back in service by Wednesday to accommodate absentee voting in Virginia, one of nine swing states where the presidential race hangs in the balance.

The localities represented varied partisan leanings. In northern Virginia, the counties of Loudoun, Fauquier, Fairfax and Arlington and the city of Falls Church were out, as was Accomack County on the hard-hit Eastern Shore, and Wise and Tazewell counties and the city of Norton in snowed-in southwestern Virginia.

McDonnell said absentee voting hours would be extended to accommodate people whose plans for absentee voting before the Nov. 6 election were altered by Sandy, and that the election would be unaffected by the storm.

Snow in far southwest Virginia and in other high elevations continued Tuesday. McDonnell said some areas have seen as much as a foot of snow, with forecasts saying that as much as another foot remained possible before tapering off overnight Tuesday.

Storm runoff will push some rivers out of their banks, said Virginia Department of Emergency Management coordinator Michael Cline. The wild card, however, is the heavy snow.

"We are going to have major river basin flooding, but it's not going to be severe," Cline said. "Depending on temperatures, if the snowmelt is a very quick one in the mountains, then we are going to see issues with that as well."

McDonnell also said freezing winds on the backside of the storm could create ice hazards for drivers, seven weeks before the official start of winter.

President Barack Obama, who canceled a Monday campaign rally in Prince William County with former President Bill Clinton, issued a federal emergency declaration for Virginia to help state and local governments and other agencies cover the costs of their response.

Asked to grade the Democratic president on his handling of the storm, McDonnell demurred, but praised the White House's leadership and the cooperation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

About 650 Virginia National Guard troops were scattered throughout the state. In Norfolk, they helped transport a resident to the hospital and others to shelter. On the Eastern Shore, they helped more than a dozen residents get to shelters and helped firefighters travel through high water.

Transportation Commissioner Gregory Whirley said about 1,000 state highway crews and contractors were busy clearing about 280 roads the storm rendered impassable, most of them the result of flooding in low areas.


Associated Press writers Steve Szkotak, Michael Felberbaum and Dena Potter contributed to this report.

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