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Thousands still without power

Response to January southern ice storm expected to continue for months -- volunteers fill a football field with debris in one town.

BY STEPHANIE BACKUS | TIPTONVILLE, TN | February 26, 2009

Tiptonville is a small town of about 4,000 residents and 918 households. To the northwest lies the Mississippi

River and the town lies within the New Madrid Seismic Zone. Since 1974, earthquakes have rattled the region. But last month, an ice storm left the community in disarray.

"Tiptonville was pretty. It was on flat ground and had many big, old trees," said Cathy Farmer, communications director of The United Methodist Church's Memphis Conference. "Now, it has many huge, old trunks. They've filled a football field with branches and sticks from the town. They still have a lot on the roadsides waiting to be picked up, too."

Cleanup efforts are out in full force across the Mid-South hit hard by the January ice storm. Volunteers from a number of other faith-based organizations including Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), Salvation Army and Lutheran Disaster Response have helped thousands of residents across the region.

"We've had hundreds of volunteers working with chainsaws and dragging branches to the roadside," Farmer said. "This has been a tree event more than anything else -- trees and power lines."

"It's as if we've had a lot of downbursts or are in a war zone with air bursts. The trees look like inverted umbrellas and all the small branches are gone," she said.

A CRWRC team spent two weeks in the Louisville area working to remove damaged tree limbs at 57 different properties.

"Some of those branches had fallen on roofs, causing some damage which they also repaired," said Art Opperwall, Manager of Volunteer groups and equipment for the CRWRC.

MDS volunteers brought in heavy machinery to help in the clean-up effort and an MDS Early Response Team from New York and volunteers from Indiana helped residents in Benton, Hopkinsville, Liberty and Lincoln City, Ky. In addition to debris removal and home repairs, other organizations have provided food and shelter for residents -- some of whom have had no power for nearly a month. The Salvation Army served more than 16,000 meals in Arkansas alone.

Electric companies say it could be weeks or months before all power is restored to the area. The Salvation Army reported this week that at least 4,000 homes in Arkansas were still without power.

"It's all of western Kentucky and northwest Tennessee. It's not just a county or town, so it's hard to find someone to go to a house to do repairs because they're so busy," Farmer said in reference to a home with fire damage after a tree fell on an electrical unit.

According to Farmer, Hickman County, Ky. officials are saying it will take an entire forest to replace the telephone and electric poles that are down. She expected to be continuing response efforts until late summer.

"We've had teams from Murphreesboro (Ky.) and they're working in Peducah. We have two teams from the Camden and Memphis areas working in northern Tennessee," she said.

"One of the things we have asked is that all of our over 80 churches in Kentucky have a work day. They'll meet at the church and work within a mile radius of the church," she said.

The Memphis Conference also hosted a youth clean-up day last week.


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