- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2009
UPDATED:

CANEYVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Thousands of National Guard troops swinging chainsaws cut their way into remote communities Sunday to reach residents stranded by a deadly ice storm, freeing some to get out of their driveways for the first time in nearly a week.

The soldiers went door to door handing out chili and beef stew rations to people cooped up in their powerless homes as authorities ratcheted up the relief effort for what Gov. Steve Beshear called the biggest natural disaster ever to hit the state.

“It’s going to be a long haul for us,” Mr. Beshear said Sunday as he toured hard-hit areas in and around Elizabethtown. “We’ve thrown everything we have at it. We’re going to continue to do that until everyone is back in their homes and back on their feet.”

The sight of Humvees rolling up one street in rural Grayson County, about 90 miles southwest of Louisville, sent children bouncing off the walls inside the generator-powered house where Bryan Bowling and 18 other people have been hunkering down by a fireplace.

“The kids were looking out the windows and yelling, ‘Yay. We’re saved,’ ” said Mr. Bowling, 30, who has a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old.

Kentucky was hit hardest by the ice storm that paralyzed wide areas from the Ozarks through Appalachia early last week. Officials blamed or suspected the storm in at least 42 deaths nationwide, most from hypothermia, traffic accidents or carbon monoxide poisoning from improperly installed generators or charcoal grills used indoors.

At its height, the storm knocked out power to 1.3 million customers from the Southern Plains to the East Coast, more than 700,000 of them in Kentucky, a state record. By Sunday, the figure had dropped closer to 400,000 in Kentucky, with scattered outages in other states.

The 4,600 soldiers Mr. Beshear ordered on duty, including his entire Army National Guard, swept through the state distributing food and water, removing fallen trees, providing security and checking houses in hard-to-reach areas. They brought food to Henry Mudd, among others, who said he has had nine family members staying in his powerless apartment, usually home to just three.

“It ain’t been easy,” said Mr. Mudd, a saw mill operator.

“The biggest thing we need is electricity,” Mr. Mudd said Sunday, one day after he finally cut through the fallen trees and branches that blocked his road and made it to the store, only to discover there wasn’t a battery to be found. “But we’re managing with wood heat. We’re staying warm.”

Troops, utility workers and civilians took advantage of temperatures near 50 across much of the region to make headway on repairs. And although authorities said some people might not get electricity for weeks, residents showed plenty of resilience.

In the town of Clinton, tucked in the tip of western Kentucky, Spc. Michael Hagan had yet to find a person in need of help after four hours of searching, but he said he’d keep knocking on doors.

“I told my sergeant if I have to walk one more hill, my feet are going to fall off,” said the 23-year-old guardsman, who returned from 18 months in Iraq in December. “But it’s good to be sure people are all right.”

Across Kentucky, churches canceled services or whittled schedules to just one service for the day. At New Horizon Baptist Church in Glendale, volunteers from New Haven Baptist Church in Albany, La., passed out free kerosene, batteries, bottled water and other goods to local residents, returning a favor from 2005.

“Our church sent a truckload down when Katrina hit,” said Dan Brian, New Horizon’s associate pastor, “and they heard we had trouble and here they came.”

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