CANEYVILLE, Ky. – Thousands of National Guard troops swinging chain saws 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,” 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.”
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 more than 40 deaths across nine states, 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 to nearly half that across Kentucky, with scattered outages in other states.
By Sunday night, 93 of Kentucky’s 120 counties along with 71 cities had declared states of emergency.
The troops, utility workers and good-natured civilians took advantage of temperatures near 50 across much of the region to make headway on repairs.