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Kentucky's National Guard deployed to aid storm victims

Thousands from the Ozarks through the Appalachia are still without electricity.

February 01, 2009|Associated Press

MAYFIELD, KY. — Gov. Steve Beshear deployed every last one of his Army National Guard troops Saturday, with his state still reeling after a deadly ice storm last week.

More than 700,000 homes and businesses, most of them in Kentucky, remained without electricity from the Ozarks through Appalachia, though with temperatures creeping into the 40s, a swarm of utility workers were able to make headway. Finding fuel -- heating oil and gasoline for cars and generators -- was another struggle for those trying to tough it out at home. Hospitals and other essential services get priority over residents.

The addition of 3,000 soldiers and airmen makes 4,600 Guard troops pressed into service; Beshear called it an appropriate response to the state's largest outage on record. Many people in rural areas cannot get out of their driveways because of debris and have no phone service, the governor said.

"With the length of this disaster and what we're expecting to be a multi-day process here, we're concerned about the lives and the safety of our people in their own homes," Beshear said, "and we need the manpower in some of the rural areas to go door to door . . . and make sure they're OK."

Staff Sgt. Erick Duncan said he and his colleagues had been putting in long shifts to open tree-littered roads. Duncan, who manned a chain saw, said he expected the assignment to last quite a while.

"It's a mess, and we're just in the city limits," he said. "We're not even out in the county yet. And there's plenty of cities and counties to go to."

Thousands of people were staying in motels and shelters. They were asked to leave their homes by authorities who said emergency teams in some areas were too stretched to reach everyone in need of food, water and warmth.

The outages disabled water systems, and authorities warned that it could be days or weeks before power was restored in the most remote spots.

The storm, which began in the Midwest, has been blamed or suspected in at least 42 deaths, including at least 11 in Kentucky, nine in Arkansas, six each in Texas and Missouri, three in Virginia, two each in Oklahoma, Indiana and West Virginia and one in Ohio. Most were blamed on hypothermia, traffic accidents and carbon monoxide poisoning.

From Missouri to Ohio, thousands were waiting in shelters for the power to return. Even in distant Oklahoma, about 10,000 customers still had no electricity.

In Missouri, about 150 Guard members were ordered to check on residents, taking the stranded to shelters and helping with power generation and clearing emergency routes. The storm had knocked out power to more than 100,000 Missouri homes and businesses.

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