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KY struggles to recover

Volunteers help Kentucky residents hit by ice, high winds and flooding.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | VANCEBURG, KY | February 27, 2003

Unforgiving winter weather that has scourged much of the U.S. in the past two weeks has been particularly hard on the state of Kentucky, where ice storms, snow, high winds and flooding have left thousands of residents without electricity and more than 70,000 on a boil-water advisory.

Faith-based and other disaster response organizations have been working to clean up the damage and help the afflicted. The Salvation Army dispatched a dozen mobile kitchens, and the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief has more than a hundred volunteers working in chain-saw crews and mobile kitchens across the state.

Ice storms in Lewis and Anderson counties knocked down trees and utility poles, according to Harold Moore of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. Moore and about two dozen other volunteers were preparing more than 2,000 meals a day at the Lewis County High School in Vanceburg, and the Red Cross and Kentucky National Guard helped distribute the meals to families stranded in remote rural areas.

Fleming-Mason Energy reported that 1,900 customers in Lewis County were still without power on Tuesday morning.

High winds and flooding created problems in Breathitt County. The small tornado was particularly devastating for the few families it affected, according to Randy Foster, who worked with the Southern Baptist crews there.

Foster said the tornado struck "the poorest of the poor," and that only one of the affected families had insurance.

"It was a very limited area that (the tornado) hit, but it absolutely devastated everything in its path," he said.

In addition to the tornado, flooding of the North Fork River has caused damage in the county.

"We have been hit here in eastern Kentucky so hard by heavy flood situations and severe weather situations," said the Rev. David Turner of the First United Methodist Church in Jackson.

The flooding has caused another big problem, he said -- contaminated drinking water. On Wednesday afternoon, more than 70,000 homes in the state were still being advised to boil their water before drinking it.

"There's drinking water available in the stores," Turner said, "but it's being used faster than normal. But we're not out of water, because we can boil water."

Flooding in Jackson, however, could have been far worse, according to Roger Friley, chief of the Jackson Fire Department. This week's precipitation was far heavier than in 1984, Friley said, which was the last major flood Breathitt County experienced.

In 1984, the river rose 13 feet above the flood stage when 4.5 inches of rain. This time around, the river rose eight and half feet above the flood level, but precipitation was only a quarter inch more than in 1984.

The reason for the reduced flooding, Friley said, was because of an aggressive mitigation strategy -- which entailed cutting off an elbow curve in the North Fork River in 1998. This short-cut in the river "relieves backing up of water in the city of Jackson," he said.

Turner said that the severe weather has had some unexpected benefits. "Every time you have a tragedy, it just pulls the community together," he said. "So there been something positive that's come out of it."

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