Daily Archives: 11 February 2009

Notes from the Kentucky Ice Storm of 2009

I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, where my father was in seminary, but I only spent two years of my life there: my first year (before going to Japan with my missionary parents in 1950) and my first-grade year (during our first furlough in 1955–56). But other connections to my old Kentucky home endure. My mother and two youngest brothers went to Berea College; both brothers obtained graduate degrees in the University of Kentucky system (one in library science, the other in accounting); and two brothers have settled in Kentucky, one as a history professor at Centre College in Danville (“City of Firsts”), and the other as a librarian at what used to be Paducah Community College and is now the cumbersomely named West Kentucky Community and Technical College.

Now, two weeks after the storm first hit, my brother who lives in a suburb of Paducah (Reidland, on the way to Possum Trot) is still without power. Unlike many of his neighbors, he lacks a generator, so he’s been buying ice to keep a few essentials cold in the freezer. His saving grace is a gas water heater and a gas fireplace, which at least make it easier to wash up, stay warm, and heat up simple meals.

We first heard about his power outage when my father called his landline, connected to an older phone powered by the phone line itself. Then we got an email from him a few days later, when he ventured out to get some supplies, recharge cell phones, and send email from the public library in downtown Paducah, which had power. The laundromats in town were jam-packed, so they took their laundry to his father-in-law’s house just across the Tennessee line. (The owner of the house was gloating from Florida!)

When classes resumed at WKCTC last week, at least half the students and staff still lacked power at home, so the school made special efforts to provide them a place to stay warm, cook food, clean up, and prepare for classes. The National Guard and FEMA have showed up, but power is still out over much of McCracken County.

My brother’s home in Danville got its power back this week, after he pleaded special needs to Kentucky Utilities, which had placed private homes last on its priority list. (My brother has several serious physical limitations.) Actually, his power came back on early last week, just long enough for him to restock his refrigerator with a fresh batch of food to spoil when the power went back off again the next day. KU was restoring power first along public thoroughfares. They charged $400 to restore power to private homes. He could have paid one of the private contractors who were soliciting business in the neighborhood, but they would still have had to get approval from KU.

Fortunately Centre College had power, and many professors were camping out in their offices, some with their families as well. It was hard to get much work done, either at school or at home. When my brother went out to find breakfast after the power in his neighborhood first went out, he found a huge crowd gathered at the local Cracker Barrel, happy to wait in line in a warm place and catch up on how their friends and neighbors were doing. At one point, my brother went to see a movie in the local theater, as much to relax in a warm place as to see the movie itself (Gran Torino).

The weather has started to warm up now, and anybody with a chainsaw and pickup truck can make a little extra cash helping people remove debris from their yards.

UPDATE: Here are a few more notes about how the ice storm affected Berea, from a former missionary kid who works there.

And now, the news from Berea! The freezing rain had been falling since Monday [January 26], and I had to duck low-hanging branches as I walked to work. Although the science building roof had been repaired last summer, it’s been leaking this fall and winter, especially with the wet December….

Shortly after that, one of the Public Safety officers passed my door … in search of ice for someone injured by a falling branch outside our building. I found a Cold Pack in the freezer for her, and Josh took her to the hospital to be checked out. She had come with her daughter, and perhaps some other prospective students, from southern Ohio, and was concerned about the return home, as she was the only driver….

When I got home [about lunchtime] I discovered the power had just gone out. When I called campus to see who else might be affected, Mike Morris told me the whole town was “powerless.” It seems a major Kentucky Utilities feeder line, from which Berea Utilities obtains its electricity, had gone down. They closed campus at 2:00. They eventually decided to deem Short Term completed (today was the last scheduled day of classes) and send the students home, urging them to take home a friend who might not be able to get home. (A number of international students were on campus for the month.) Staff were also dismissed until Monday.

We were inside when we heard a tremendous CRASH, and went outside to discover that a large tree in [our landlord’s son’s house] …. had been felled by another tree, on College property, and crashed into their house. It took out their playhouse in the back yard, which is probably what spared their Doberman, and took the corner off the nursery upstairs. Thankfully they were all downstairs around the gas fireplace, but we learned today that they’ll be out of their house for a couple of months.

Later, after cold sandwiches for both lunch and supper (I’d gotten a ham recently), we decided to go see what might be open. We’d heard that the area across the interstate from Wal-Mart, as well as the far north end of town, still had power, as they were on the Bluegrass Co-Op system. We found gas at $1.79 and filled the truck (the car has starter/battery/electrical issues with which we hadn’t yet dealt, due to the cold weather), and also bought hot coffee!!! Then we found the new Walgreen’s, not far from the house, had just opened after having gotten a generator from Cincinnati. We got a battery operated radio, batteries for it and our flashlights, which were getting dim, and some candles.

When we pulled into the driveway our neighbor across Churchill Drive told us we’d lost part of our backyard maple tree. It was way across the road, so we called 9-1-1. A city crew came out before too long and removed the portion outside our yard, but we still have a huge section, probably about 14″ in diameter, inside the yard, to be dealt with at a later date. We hunkered down in the study, with the doors to the living room, basement, and sewing room closed, and weren’t uncomfortable. We “cocooned” for the night, complete with toboggans, and slept well, getting up only around 10:30 or 11:00 – even after two phone calls from campus – with the goal of finding some hot food.

That we found at Huddle House – also across the interstate at the northern exit – along with a horde of other locals with the same intent. We’d been given the idea by [the] cousin of our landlord, who lives across the street with his 90+ -year-old mother. They ended up at the booth next to us. I’d taken Baachan’s [= granny’s] air pot to get coffee, and our nice waitress emptied her pot every time she made the rounds for refills. :)

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