Stranded Train Crewmen Get Lift In Eastern Storm Around 200,000 People Left Without Power, With Flooding Now The Main Concern
A charter helicopter battling fog and rugged terrain plucked two train crew members from a remote river gorge Thursday after snow and fallen trees had stranded them for more than a day.
Meanwhile, about 44,000 people in snow-covered western North Carolina remained without heat or light as swollen waterways had emergency officials wary of flooding.
Schools remained closed in many mountain counties.
In Tennessee, up to 90,000 customers were without power Thursday as people in the eastern part of the state coped with the aftermath of a storm that dumped as much as 4 feet of snow.
About 63,000 customers were without power in West Virginia, where one death was reported. A man shoveling snow at his home died of a heart attack Wednesday.
Previous attempts to reach the two crew members aboard the CSX coal train by snowmobile and a National Guard helicopter had failed.
When rescued by the charter helicopter, the pair was flown to Charleston and taken back to their base in Russell, Ky.
“What they were wanting was coffee and food,” said Chuck McBride, superintendent of operations for CSX Transportation in Huntington.
The engineer, Jeff Lee, suffers from emphysema and asthma. He is required to take his medication with food, and the crew went hungry since becoming stranded on Tuesday night in a valley with few access roads and 1,500-foot mountains rising sharply on each side.
The storm forced CSX to stop up to 15 loaded trains and seven empty ones in West Virginia. Those trains were in areas where the crews could easily be removed.
But not Lee or conductor Kenny Douglass.
The 90-car train headed out of Russell, Ky., bound for Newport News, Va., on Tuesday afternoon. The storm hit that night, toppling trees like toothpicks along the tracks ahead of them in southern West Virginia.
Their locomotive had a telephone and heater. But Wednesday night, the phone went out.
“We lost all communications with them all night long,” McBride said. “That really scared us. It was a pretty touchy night.”
Also Thursday, crews removed downed trees along the tracks at the rate of 150 trees per mile in an effort to free the stranded train, McBride said.