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Some West Virginians are still rebuilding, one year after Superstorm Sandy

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D.A. Gohil's family is still rebuilding its convenience store business in Nicholas County, a year after Superstorm Sandy buried parts of West Virginia in wet, heavy snow that collapsed roofs and pulled down power lines.

The thick snow from the freakish fall storm was too much for the roofs of two of his family's stores to sustain. Both stores — one in Summersville, the other in Craigsville — were destroyed when the roofs crashed down.

Damage totaled about $2.4 million, and only a fifth of the loss was covered by insurance.

The Craigsville store was rebuilt and opened in May. Work hasn't started yet to replace the Summersville store, but the family hopes to have it rebuilt and opened by next June, he said.

"It's our livelihood, and we have to come back to it," Gohil said in a recent interview.

Sandy dumped more than 2 feet of snow in the state's highest elevations, and snow drifts as high as 3 to 5 feet were reported in areas hardest hit by the Halloween-season storm. Trees snapped like matchsticks, and more than a quarter-million customers were left without electricity, some for two weeks.

Nationwide, it flooded or dropped snow on much of the eastern U.S. on Oct. 29, 2012, becoming the nation's second-most expensive weather disaster at $65 billion and killing at least 182 people after claiming dozens of other lives in the Caribbean.

West Virginia's death toll from the epic storm was seven, including a legislative candidate struck by a falling tree limb.

Sandy caused at least $2.9 million in damage to public property in West Virginia, with roads, bridges and parks taking the brunt of the wreckage, according to the state. The Federal Emergency Management Agency covered nearly $2.2 million of the damage, the state said.

Sandy-related debris removal totaled $14 million in the state, mostly for removing trees from roads and to gain access to downed power lines, the state said. FEMA covered $10.5 million of that amount.

Insurance companies paid out an estimated $15.5 million in claims from Sandy-related damage to private property in the state, according to figures compiled by the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

In some places, the cleanup lasted for months as crews removed broad swaths of downed trees and other debris felled by the heavy snow.

John Jarrell, the Nicholas County highway administrator, had a close call while helping remove downed trees that littered the roads. A tree toppled onto his pickup truck, crashing through the windshield.

"I saw it coming and dodged over into the other lane," said Jarrell, who suffered cuts.

His crews spent months clearing debris from roads snaking through the mountains in the central West Virginia county.

"There were trees falling right and left," Jarrell said. "All day long you could just hear timber popping, cracking and falling out in the woods."

In Summersville, the small town has for the most part recovered, said Mayor Robert Shafer. An apartment complex damaged by the heavy snow was repaired. Volunteers pitched in to remove debris from a city park. One vestige of the storm still noticeable is the downtown lot where the Gohil family's convenience store hasn't been rebuilt.

"This community is resilient in helping each other and bouncing back," the mayor said. "It was an awful thing to experience, but we still in many ways are much, much blessed."

Several state parks sustained damage from the storm, but except for some backcountry trails still strewn with debris at Cathedral Park, the parks have been restored, said Brad Reed, a district administrator for the state parks system.

"Our employees out there, they dug their heels in and worked ... over and above the call of duty and put these places back together," he said. "By the time the spring and summer season came around, when our visitation numbers shoot up, our people pretty well had our parks back together."

Hardest hit by the storm was Holly River State Park, where Sandy dumped more than 2 feet of snow within a few hours on Oct. 29. By Nov. 1, the park had more than 3 feet of snow.

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