By JOE MANCHIN

CHARLESTON -- Winter has hit West Virginia hard this year.

First, the Dec. 18, snow storm severely hampered transportation and left thousands without electricity. And, for the past several days, the north-central area and northern and eastern panhandles have been hit hard with multiple feet of snow, while snow and ice swept through many of our southern counties.

West Virginia remains in a state of emergency and, the snow shut down the federal government for days. I spoke with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently, and she assured me that her department was monitoring our area and the storms the past few weeks. She has pledged to provide federal assistance where possible. I appreciate her concern and willingness to assist.

We are assessing the storm's damage. I toured areas that suffered the greatest impact on Feb. 8. I met with local officials -– mayors, county commissioners and emergency services workers. I emphasized that safety comes first, and do not make decisions based on cost.

Local officials are concerned about their budgets and costs associated with the storm. I understand their concerns and remain committed to working with the Legislature and federal and local officials to provide help. We need to keep detailed records so we can account for the costs. Rest assured, we will do what is needed, using all of our resources, but we will do it responsibly.

Since traveling across the state, I have spoken to numerous mayors, state and local officials, first-responders, National Guard members and many citizens about this severe winter weather. My top administration officials –- Department of Highways Secretary Paul Mattox, Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Joe Thornton, Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Jimmy Gianato, Governor's Office Constituents Services Director Scott Cosco and Adjutant General for the West Virginia National Guard Allen Tackett – traveled to the Eastern Panhandle and Morgantown recently to speak directly with county administrators, local officials, first-responders and others to assess the storm and its aftermath.

And, in the coming days, I will be visiting hard-hit counties to speak with the people directly about their concerns.

West Virginians are truly special and we come together when hardship arrives. I am very grateful to all who have helped during these storms.

I want to especially thank the more than 600 National Guard members, the highway workers, forestry workers, state employees, private businesses and first responders have worked around the clock to ensure that West Virginians are safe and working to help fellow West Virginians get their lives back to normal as quickly as possible.

Manchin is governor of West Virginia.

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