Just as Henry County began to thaw from last week’s winter storm, more snow fell Tuesday adding to a mix of snow and ice that most residents would be happy to never see again.
Last Wednesday’s ice storm left more than 607,000 Kentuckians in the freezing cold and darkness, thousands of those in Henry County. That number surpassed the nearly 600,0000 Kentucky residents who lost power in September.
“The storm has now caused the largest power outage on record in Kentucky, exceeding the 600,000 customers who lost power on Sept. 14, 2008, as a result of Hurricane Ike,” Andrew Melnykovych, of Kentucky’s Public Service Commission, said.
By Friday, Henry County Emergency Management Director Bruce Owens shared an optimistic short-term forecast. Owens said things were looking up for Henry County residents laid low by the massive ice storm.
“The power is coming back on slowly,” he said, “and the roads are in pretty good shape.”
County Judge-Executive John Logan Brent said roads were a top issue. “The thing is we want them not just clean, but clear,” he said.
Brent said his office dispatched chainsaw crews to every corner of the county. “We’ve spent more time cutting a path than scraping the roads,” he said. Brent said it took a five-man crew nearly four hours to cut their way through one county road.
County Road Supervisor Glenn Baxter said his crews were out cutting trees down as well, plus operating six plows and throwing salt.
“We’ve been working about ten hours a day,” he said. “If the sun would come out, we’d be okay. This ice is the killer.”
Baxter said Henry County crews were able to get to almost all county roads and are prepared should another problem arise. “With the exception of one or two roads, we got them all,” he said, “and we got salt this week.”
Kentucky State Police Officer Seth Willis said that by noon on Friday, officers already had responded to 13 vehicular accidents. “Nine were non-injury ranging from fender benders to (significant) collisions,” he said. “The roads are not as good as people think.”
Willis said despite challenges, KSP was able to keep up with increased demands on time and resources. Willis believed people were anxious to get back to their normal routine and that almost all the mishaps were weather related.
Brent said shelter was another huge concern. “We needed to take care of folks without heat and no neighbor’s house to go to,” he said.
Four shelters were opened at Lake Jericho Fire Department, Pleasureville Fire Department, KSP Post 5 and the Eminence Community Center.
Brent said the two at local fire departments were closed when only a handful of people showed up. “It made sense to shift them all to Eminence,” he said. Brent said Eminence City Councilman Danny Meadows spearheaded the effort.
Meadows said the community center opened as a shelter at 8 a.m. on Wednesday. Fire Chief Gary Lucas sent a fire truck with a generator to the center to run heaters, cots were obtained from the Red Cross by Magistrate Adam West and Norm’s Food World donated food before other retailers could even get their doors open.
“That way we were able to house people,” he said. “That first night was peanut butter and jelly, bologna and cheese and hot dogs.”
Norm’s donated three to four carts full of groceries, and refused payment, according to Meadows.
Brent and Owens said other local merchants also helped the Eminence shelter run smoothly by offering their quick assistance.
Owens said they received food donations from Kentucky Fried Chicken, Scriber’s Station, Chat-N-Nibble and New Castle Cafe restaurants. He said Cook’s Pharmacy in Eminence also donated a great deal of personal hygiene products and other items.
“We didn’t have to buy food for the first three days because of local merchants,” Brent said.
Meadows said the Henry County Sheriff Department transported folks to the shelter and the Eminence Police Department offered security, checking in on the center every hour.
Medical expertise and catered meals were provided by the North Central Health Department. Owens thanked Eminence City Council members who volunteered, some even staying overnight to help out. “We had someone who is blind, a diabetic, someone on oxygen and a lot of little ones,” Meadows said. He said Scott McClamroch made sure the oxygen patient received treatment every six hours.
Meadows thanked Jeff and Tiffany McMahan for donating televisions which, he said, helped to keep the children amused. “People just stopped by and offered to help,” he said. Meadows said Eminence resident and town fixture James “Foxy” Wright put in countless man hours keeping the shelter clean. “He set up cots, swept and mopped floors, and whatever else needed to be done,” he said.
At the height of power outages, about 40 people stayed overnight at the Eminence shelter, which served a total of 200 before closing its doors Sunday evening. “Only four were actually from Eminence,” he said. “The rest were mainly from Pleasureville, Smithfield and Campbellsburg.”
Meadows said each member of the city council volunteered time to the shelter, working in shifts of two, staying up all night to welcome newcomers and tend to those already settled in for the night. “I can’t say enough about them,” Brent said. “They all stepped up to the plate.”
Willis said Post 5 also provided a safe haven for Henry County residents facing the wrath of the storm. “I have taken several people to the post for a warm place to stay,” he said.
The emergency shelter at the post was staffed by troopers, sergeants and clerks as well as volunteers. “Local fire departments also chipped in in a big way,” he said.
Brent said power and water also were a high priority for his office, although neither are a direct responsibility of his office.
Owens said it appeared Kentucky Utilities customers were quicker to get back on line than those serviced by the Shelby Enery Cooperative. He said he believes the difference is that SEC customers live in more rural parts of the county while KU supplies power to cities and towns.
The phone number for a representative from SEC was busy Tuesday morning, all morning.
Darlene Tipton, owner of Hawkins Farm Center in Port Royal backed up that statement. “There are (a lot) of people here still without power,” she said. “It’s mostly all the SEC people.” Tipton said residents on Maddox Ridge, Cane Run and Vance Roads were still affected Friday.
Tipton said residents in the Port Royal area mostly relied on family, friends and neighbors. “Everybody’s doing pretty good under the circumstances,” she said. “The majority are staying with relatives or have wood stoves.”
As of Tuesday morning, SEC reported 450 Henry County customers remained without power.
Willis said Post 5 was pretty well prepared, but this weather presented unique problems.
“The power outages crippled us in a different way,” he said, “alarm systems were going crazy and family members were not able to reach each other.”
He said Post 5 is always ready to help in any way they can. Willis said the post even has four-wheel drive vehicles that enable officers to reach residents in remote areas.
“People can call anytime for help,” he said.
While government, police and other agencies dealt with roads, shelter and power outages, local school systems had to think ahead. Both Eminence Independent and Henry County Public Schools will end up with more days than usual to make up at the end of the year.
Henry County Public Schools had accumulated an seven day deficit by Friday, and added one more day Monday. Friday afternoon, Superintendent Tim Abrams said continued problems due to ice crippled efforts to re-open schools.
Abrams said his crew would wait until temperatures climbed over the weekend to try to clean the pavement. “There is so much ice in the parking lot,” he said, “our plan is to come in on Sunday afternoon to clear parking lots.”
Abrams said roadways also were still hazardous. “I drove down by Franklinton,” he said, “and we still have a lot of trees in roads and drives.”
Abrams said at this point he would recommend one make-up day in May to coincide with a day off for primary elections as well as one on President’s Day. That would make the last day of school Monday, June 1 and graduation on Friday, June 5.
“If there are any additional days we’ll have to go back to the drawing board,” he said. “We could very easily miss five or six more days in February. We usually do.”
Eminence Indpendent Schools Superintendent Donald Aldridge said the district cancelled school for four days last week largely because of ice on Tuesday, a power outage Wednesday, and lingering ice Thursday and Friday.
Aldridge said EIS builds make days into its schedule. The district already planned to make up a day on Feb. 16 for the day school was closed due to the death of Dewayne Douglas in January.
The snow days will be made up using the first week of Spring Break, which was scheduled to begin March 16. Aldridge said using those days is not official yet, and must be approved by the school board.
City employees also were stretched thin at the peak of storm damage.
New Castle City Clerk Lynn Adams said that the two-man public works department worked long hours clearing streets. “Our guys have worked night and day, and neither of them have power at home,” she said. “They’re getting maybe four to five hours sleep a night.”
Adams said the hard work has paid New Castle residents dividends. “Things are good,” she said. “I think we have the best roads in the county.”
Adams said power outages remained a problem in a few areas. A section of Castle Creek Subdivision was still without power on Friday as well as isolated homes on Mockingbird and Hill streets. Adams said the sewer plant was being powered by generator.
Campbellsburg Mayor Carl Rucker said his city was luckier than some.
“We were one of the very fortunate ones,” he said. “We got power back by 10:15 the night of the storm.”
Rucker said some folks living outside city limits were still without power. “One I’m aware of is Boyer Lane,” he said. “As of yesterday (Thursday), they were still without.”
Rucker said ice was a challenge, but the road crew worked hard clearing side streets. “Vincent Vaughn and Tim Hague have done a marvelous job,” he said. “We still have tree limbs down, but Campbellsburg has fared very well.”
In Pleasureville some folks were without power until Saturday. City Clerk Verna Stivers said several residents took advantage of food and shelter provided at the Pleasureville Community Center. “That was quite a long time,” she said.
Stivers said Fire Chief Denny Washburn and Mayor Rodney Young went out and purchased food and other supplies, then got a generator going to provide power to the building.
“Our shelter was open overnight,” she said, “but most people were kind of in and out for warmth.”
Stivers reported that, as of Monday, things had returned to normal and praised utility crews, fire departments and all who helped. “Roads are all cleared out, the tree limbs have popped back up and everyone has power back,” she said.
Late Friday afternoon, Brent said the Stage Two Emergency status had been lifted and he praised Henry County residents for their measured response to the crisis. “We appreciate peoples’ patience,” he said.
Meadows said though he hopes never to have to activate the community center as a shelter again, council members already have begun discussions to better prepare for emergencies. “We’ve put plans in motion,” he said, “to designate people instead of shooting from the hip, but that’s the way you learn.”
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