National Guard cuts through frozen Kentucky

Lower Town ice.jpg
Lower Town ice.jpg

A pair of vehicles prepare to pass the top of a power pole that fell onto the sidewalk along 3rd Street in Paducah, Ky. on Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009.

The Paducah Sun, John Wright/The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 3:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 3:55 p.m.

LEITCHFIELD, Ky. National Guard troops swinging chain saws made their way into isolated Kentucky communities Sunday to check on residents walloped by a winter storm that Gov. Steve Beshear called the biggest natural disaster ever to hit the state.

Some 4,600 guardsmen fanned out across Kentucky to distribute food and water, remove fallen trees, go door-to-door in hard-hit areas and provide security in communities that have been evacuated.

With high temperatures well into the 40s through the weekend, much of the ice that had clung to buildings, power lines, trees and roads has disappeared. And another winter storm that had been forecast to hit Monday apparently will bypass the state.

"Hopefully we will dodge the bullet," Beshear said. "We're keeping a watchful eye on that."

Kentucky was the hardest-hit by the ice storm that paralyzed wide areas from the Ozarks through Appalachia early last week. The storm wrapped a large part of Kentucky in an inch-thick mantle of ice that shattered utility poles, toppled trees and drove thousands from frigid homes to shelters, and the state had a long way to go toward recovery authorities said it could be weeks before power was restored in some spots.

More than 400,000 Kentucky homes and businesses still lacked electricity Sunday, down from more than 700,000, a state record. Officials told those still shivering in dark, unheated homes to seek safe refuge in motels and places with power or generators.

"Too many people are trying to tough it out at home," Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo said.

The storm that began in the Midwest has been blamed or suspected in at least 42 deaths, including 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.

Finding fuel heating oil along with gas for cars and generators was a struggle for those trying to tough it out at home. Hospitals and other essential services took priority.

In Lone Oak, a tiny community in rural western Kentucky, Angel Wyant has been eking out the days with the heat from a kitchen frier connected to a handheld propane tank.

"And a carbon monoxide detector," she pointed out, mindful of the dozens of deaths caused by the storm.

The makeshift heater isn't much good when night falls, so Wyant, 32, and her three children have been staying overnight at the home of neighbor Rita Kelly, 53.

"We huddle around the old wood stove," said Kelly, whose two-bedroom aluminum sided house now shelters six people.

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