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Ohio faces 'invisible disaster'after tough winter storms

Hundreds of Ohioans are still recovering from a February storm.


"Snowstorms are not a big deal to us. But this was just unbelievable."

—Mary Woodward

Hundreds of Ohioans are still recovering from a February storm that slammed the eastern U.S., knocking out power and shutting down roads in more than a dozen states.

A combination of four inches of ice and more than two feet of snow had devastating results for Ohio: more than 36,000 people lost electricity during the storm, and thousands of people in a seven-county area were virtually stranded in their homes until the roads cleared.

More than 2,300 people in the seven counties declared a disaster area by President Bush have already applied for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and more are expected to send in applications before the May 13 deadline.

Mary Woodward, director of Southeast Ohio Ministries, a Lutheran relief group, has been coordinating the work of volunteer groups across the state on what she called an "invisible disaster."

"This is such an unusual disaster," Woodward said. "I mean, snowstorms are not a big deal to us. But this was just unbelievable."

It was ice that caused most of the problems, she said.

"Four inches of ice literally strips trees," Woodward said. "It just looks like someone just took every limb off."

These fallen tree limbs, encased in inches of ice, then buried under feet of snow, presented serious removal problems.

It some cases, Woodward said, extreme measures had to be taken in order to get rid of the stuff. Dynamite, for example: in one case, a group of explosives experts were called in to blast apart a frozen pile of debris.

"That's a first for me," she said.

Woodward was involved in the immediate response: getting food, water and, in some cases, oxygen tanks, to the sick and elderly, people who ordinarily had a hard time getting out of their homes, and who, during the storm, were completely stranded.

Then there was providing food for everybody else. Many people who lost power for more than a few days also lost their stores of frozen meat, Woodward said. In this primarily rural area, hunting is way of life, and many people have basement freezers filled with meat. A lot of that meat spoiled, thanks to the ice storm, Woodward said.

Now, in what has become long-term recovery, people are still facing home repair and debris removal.

Woodward said that Mennonite volunteer groups are slated to either repair or rebuild 15 homes in the seven-county area.

But debris removal is probably the most widespread concern, she said. This is especially a problem for farmers, now that spring planting time has arrived, and they find their fields still strewn with debris.

Clearing these fields is not a matter of convenience for these people, Woodward said. It's a matter of economic survival.

"We're dealing with very poor people who farm for a living," she said.

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