1 Million Without Power From Frigid Storm

By: AP
By: AP

(AP) A crippling winter storm has plunged about a million customers into the dark from the Midwest to the East Coast, and thousands of people in ice-caked Kentucky have sought refuge in motels and shelters.

Dozens of deaths have been reported and many people are pleading for a faster response to the power outages. Some in rural Kentucky ran short of food and bottled water, and resorted to dipping buckets in a creek.

Thousands fled frigid, powerless homes for hotels and even a heated auditorium at Murray State University that was converted into a shelter following Monday's storm that left some areas in up to 1 inch of ice.

Utility workers hoped to speed up efforts Saturday to turn the lights back on. Still, rural communities feared it could be days or even weeks before workers got to areas littered with downed power lines.

Temperatures were expected to rise just above freezing Saturday for the first time in days.

At least 42 people have died in the icy arc of destruction that began in the Midwest. At least nine deaths were reported 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 generators.

In Kentucky, where 11 people had died, a man and two women were the latest victims after they were found dead in a southwestern Louisville home. One woman was found in a bed; the other two were found in the garage with a generator, police spokesman Phil Russell said.

Meanwhile, the uncertainty of when power might be restored had many appealing for help. Officials urged those in dark homes to leave.

"We're asking people to pack a suitcase and head south and find a motel if they have the means, because we can't service everybody in our shelter," said Crittenden County Judge-Executive Fred Brown, who oversees about 9,000 people, many of whom spent a fifth night sleeping in the town's elementary school.

Local officials grew angrier at what they said was a lack of help from the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In Kentucky's Grayson County, about 80 miles southwest of Louisville, Emergency Management Director Randell Smith said the 25 National Guardsmen who have responded have no chain saws to clear fallen trees. He said roads are littered with fallen trees and people shivering in bone-chilling cold are in need.

"We've got people out in some areas we haven't even visited yet," Smith said. "We don't even know that they're alive."

Smith said FEMA was still a no-show days after the storm.

(AP/S.L. Dennee, Paducah Sun)(The sun rises over ice-coated power lines and trees in Ledbetter, Ky., Jan. 30, 2009.)

"I'm not saying we can't handle it," Smith said. "We're handling it. But it sure would have made life a lot easier."

FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak said some agency workers had begun working Friday in Kentucky and more help was on the way. Hudak said FEMA also has shipped 50 to 100 generators to the state to supply electricity to such facilities as hospitals, nursing homes and water treatment plants.

"We have plenty of folks ready to go, but there are some limitations with roads closed and icy conditions," she noted.

From Missouri to Ohio, thousands were waiting in shelters for the power to return. Others were trying to tough it out at home.

In Poplar Bluff, Mo., a man used a barbecue grill inside to cook and keep warm, deputy police chief Jeff Rolland said.

"Luckily, one of our volunteers was in a position to see what he was doing and inform him of the carbon monoxide dangers of using a charcoal grill inside a residence," Rolland said.

President Barack Obama on Friday declared a federal emergency for Missouri, making the state eligible for federal funds even as power outages lingered in much of the southern portion of the state.

In Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear said crews were working around the clock to restore power and get food and water to needed areas. Beshear said state government would "spare no expense" in recovery efforts.

I'd pray awhile and I'd cry awhile. It's the worst I've ever seen.

Doris Hemingway, 78"We are pulling out all the stops, using all of our resources and devoting our entire energy to this emergency and we will continue to do so until the last home has power, the last road is cleared and the last family is safe," Beshear said.

Beshear said 200,000 customers were without water or under an advisory to boil their water Friday night.

"By the end of this weekend, we hope to have generators at a majority of the water plants," he said. "In the meantime, we are trucking bottled water into every place we know that needs it, so no one should be without drinking water over the weekend."

Laura Howe, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said the organization had opened more than 34 shelters for some 2,000 people.

Doris Hemingway, 78, spent three days bundled in blankets to ward off the cold in her Leitchfield mobile home. News that it could take up to six weeks for power to be restored sent Hemingway and his husband, Bill, into a shelter at a local high school.

"I'd pray awhile and I'd cry awhile," Doris Hemingway said. "It's the worst I've ever seen."

By Associated Press Writer Bruce Schreiner; AP writers Roger Alford in Leitchfield; Dylan T. Lovan, Rebecca Yonker, Brett Barrouquere and Janet Cappiello Blake in Louisville; Betsy Taylor in St. Louis; and Randall Dickerson in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.
© MMIX The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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