- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2009

WEST PADUCAH, Ky. (AP) — U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday the federal government would deviate from normal practice and reimburse Kentucky for 75 percent of the cost of activating its National Guard in last month’s crippling winter storm.

At a news conference in Frankfort, Napolitano called the storm that began Jan. 27 Kentucky’s worst in more than a century, blanketing the region with snow and ice and knocking out power to about 769,000 customers.

“Normally the National Guard is a state responsibility and governors assume that and budget for it and that’s the way it is,” Napolitano said. “But this situation was so broad and so unique and the need for the Guard to get out there and do those door-to-door wellness checks, particularly in the western parts of the state, are such that I feel it necessary to create an exception from our normal practice.”

Napolitano planned to head from Kentucky to Kansas and Iowa on her first trip as head of homeland security.

Kentucky officials have attributed 33 deaths to the storm. About 39,000 customers were still without power on Tuesday, officials said.

Some 101 counties and 75 cities have declared states of emergency, and President Barack Obama has issued a major disaster declaration for the state.

“We are making a lot of progress and we are seeing that light at the end of the tunnel, but we still have a lot of hard work to do,” Kentucky Gov. Beshear said at an airport news conference with Napolitano in West Paducah in western Kentucky.

Napolitano and Beshear met with community leaders and officials before taking a brief tour of a warehouse containing boxes of self-heating meals and bottled water.

They inspected a communications trailer and later visited a nearby neighborhood strewn with debris and where at least some residents remained without power two weeks after the storm.

Beshear activated his state’s entire Army National Guard on Jan. 31 and at one point there were about 4,600 guard troops helping remove storm debris and conduct door-to-door safety checks in isolated rural areas.

Napolitano credited Beshear for the government’s response.

“Gov. Beshear has really been a model of what a governor does. You take hold, you take charge and you get the work done,” Napolitano said. “And you realize that people’s lives are at stake, and you’ve got to move quickly because you have hours, not days in many instances to make sure that people are safe.”

Cleaning up the damage is the next daunting task.

“It is uncertain how long it will take for us to fully repair and rebuild all that has been broken or demolished,” Beshear said. “But no matter how long it takes, we will not abate our efforts until the last road is clear, the last home has power and the last family is safe.”

Associated Press writer Joe Biesk in Frankfort contributed to this report.

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