- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2009

As Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano prepares to visit ice-storm-ravaged Kentucky, some residents still without power two weeks later are relying on themselves, friends and faith - not the federal government - to get through the disaster.

Cindy Marcum relied on a wood-burning stove for heat and candles to light her house in Richmond, Ky., after the first ice storm swept through the state two weeks ago.

But when one of the candles in her daughter’s bedroom ignited a fire that would destroy the interior of the house, Mrs. Marcum called upon her faith to make it through.

Icy roads blocked by downed trees and power lines hampered the effort of a lone firetruck that finally reached her house more than a half-hour after her first 911 cell-phone call.

“We just started praying that God would help us,” Mrs. Marcum said. “I know God was with us the whole time.”

“We were so blessed that no one got hurt,” said Mrs. Marcum who got her two daughters safely out of the burning house. Their dog and a litter of puppies were also rescued by the firefighters, she tearfully recounted.

So, when Miss Napolitano tours the state to survey the damage and recovery efforts, there is something Mrs. Marcum wants her to know: “I think our government let us down.”

What the Marcum family needs is shelter, but the only assistance they could find were food coupons offered by the local Red Cross.

“We don’t have anywhere to put the food, so I did not want to take one of the vouchers when someone else might need it desperately,” Mrs. Marcum said.

“They did not have enough facilities set up to handle the storm,” Mrs. Marcum said. “The Red Cross ran out of fire kits, and several people died from carbon-monoxide poisoning. People were bringing in their gas grills to heat their homes. The temperatures dropped into the single digits; it was brutally cold for our area.”

At least 30 deaths have been reported as a result of carbon-monoxide poisoning, house fires or car accidents since the first storm struck Jan. 26. A second storm hit Feb. 3.

Miss Napolitano will take a break this week from touring Midwestern states, which are preparing for the flood and tornado seasons, to assess on Tuesday the federal emergency response in Kentucky. Subzero temperatures continue to plague more than 100,000 residents still without power.

“Since the first ice storm hit last week, Secretary Napolitano has been in constant contact with Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear,” Homeland Security spokesman Sean Smith said.

After a briefing with Mr. Beshear at the Kentucky Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort on Tuesday afternoon, Miss Napolitano will fly to Paducah to tour one of the hardest-hit areas in the state.

Later that evening, she will travel to Kansas to meet with Gov. Kathleen Sebelius about potential biological threats against agriculture and food supply, and Wednesday she will address that state’s emergency managers on preparedness and tour areas damaged by tornados.

Miss Napolitano will also travel to Iowa to tour flood-damaged areas, but so far she has not been scheduled to tour Arkansas, which like Kentucky was also hard hit by ice storms. About 50,000 residents there are still without power.

President Obama on Wednesday declared 90 of Kentucky’s 120 counties major disaster areas, and Friday granted a request from Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas to declare 23 counties in his state major disaster areas.

“Since the onset of the storms, more than 140 truckloads of water and more than 65 truckloads of meals have arrived in Kentucky, Arkansas and Missouri, as well as thousands of blankets and cots, roughly 80,000 gallons of fuel and approximately 450 generators,” Mr. Smith said.

“We will continue to mobilize supplies to respond to our state partners needs,” Mr. Smith said.

Jay Blanton, spokesman for Mr. Beshear, said Kentucky’s massive power outages were compounded by a complete blackout of the communication grid, which made it difficult in the first 48 hours to determine damage, which he described as “historic” for the Bluegrass State. Early estimates from public utilities alone are $50 million in damages.

“In one place, 30 power poles in a row were knocked down,” Mr. Blanton said. “It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to put power poles in the ground in subfreezing temperatures.”

“But we also understand that without power for several days there are some levels of frustration, and the lack of communication made it even more difficult,” Mr. Blanton said.

“What the governor has been talking about is the numerous unsung heroes, local folks and neighbors reaching out to neighbors and the incredible stories he has heard all over, including his hometown of Dawson Springs, where firefighters walked for five miles through the ice going door-to-door checking on people,” Mr. Blanton said.

“The locals stepped up, and strangers helped strangers,” Mr. Blanton said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency does not provide generators to individuals, but rather for hospitals, nursing homes, shelters and other emergency and government establishments. FEMA has contributed significantly to the state’s recovery, though, Mr. Blanton said.

“FEMA does not walk around wearing FEMA T-shirts. They give us the resources we need, like food and water,” Mr. Blanton said. Through Mr. Obama’s declaration, the federal agency will pay for 75 percent of the government’s expenditures, he added.

“The folks you will see on the ground are the emergency workers, National Guard, the linemen, that is the presence,” Mr. Blanton said.

Larissa Engelhardt and her family are still without power two weeks after the ice storm swept through her town near Melbourne, Ark. So are Tim and Sandra Nash of Mammoth Springs, Ark., who are hauling water daily from the Spring River to boil for bathwater because without electricity, they can’t pump water from their well.

Both families live in areas that were hard hit by tornadoes just one year ago.

“They paid more attention to our area last year after the tornados,” Mr. Nash said. “We’ve heard nothing from the government.”

“The only thing we are relying on is our neighbors and the fire department,” he said. “So far, we are surviving.”

Lydia Morrison McCarty in Versailles, Ky., says neighborhoods are now filled with trucks from various power companies working to get power restored.

“A friend of mine and I felt it in our heart to bless all of the linemen with prayer, and we went over to their trailer to give them the gift of food,” Mrs. McCarty said.

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