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NE, KS struggle after storm

Some residents in Kansas and Nebraska may not have power back for another month because of the New Year's weekend ice storm.

BY HEATHER MOYER | MINDEN, Neb. | January 10, 2007

"That's a huge economic loss to the owners of those animals."

—Todd Domer

Some residents in Kansas and Nebraska may not have power back for another month because of the New Year's weekend ice storm.

The storm rolled through the states from Dec. 28 through Dec. 31, knocking out thousands of miles of power lines. In Nebraska alone, more than 2,300 miles of power lines were brought down by the storm, not to mention the number of transformers and power stations badly damaged as well. More than 28 counties are affected. A federal disaster declaration came down this week for 44 Nebraska counties and last week for 44 Kansas counties. More than 7,000 residents in both states remain without power.

Farmers in both states are also scrambling to feed and care for livestock stranded when the blizzard conditions overtook the region. For several days members of the National Guard airlifted hay to stranded livestock. Many farmers are also in need of generators to power their farms in order to feed and water the animals, said representatives from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) and the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA).

In Nebraska, the NDA started up a generator hotline last week to field calls from farmers in need of a power supply. "Officially the calls started rolling in last Wednesday, and for the rest of the week the phone rang consistently all day," said Christin Kamm, public information officer for the NDA. "It's been a pretty tremendous response the whole time."

Kamm said the impact on farmers in Nebraska is huge considering it is almost calving season. "A lot of producers are running generators to get well water for their cattle, many of which are pregnant. Calving season starts in January and February, so they're real close to having the calves. The animals can't go long without water, it is very critical. If they abort them because they can't get water, that's a huge profit loss. This would be a huge economic blow to them."

The KLA's Todd Domer said that the total livestock death loss thus far since the storm has been lower than expected considering how bad the storm was. "To get a feel for what these cattle went through, they had 48 hours of rain that amounted to about four inches total," explained Domer, the vice president of communications for the KLA.

"That's a huge rain for that area because it's fairly arid in western Kansas. So the animals were soaked clean through. Then the wind came out of the north and it continued to rain, and then two inches of ice built up right on the animals' hair coat. And then it snowed anywhere from three to 33 inches on top of them, depending on their location. The stress level was extremely high on those animals."

The worry now is the weight loss of the livestock. Domer said some cattle came out of the storm weighing 50 to 75lbs less. "If cattle lost that kind of weight or more, and you overlay the entire cattle population of those 44 counties with that kind of weight loss - that's a huge economic loss to the owners of those animals."

With another winter storm in the forecasts for this weekend, Domer worries the problems will just continue to pile up for the farmers. "Not all of the rural areas have their power back up yet," he said. "The rest of the winter (may be hard). We're probably saddled with wet pen conditions (for the livestock) for at least the foreseeable future. That has an impact on the comfort level of animals and productivity."

For residents coping with no power, the time ticks by slowly. Agencies in Nebraska are helping the affected families by assessing needs and securing resources. The NDA's Kamm said while they've fielded many calls from residents in need over the generator hotline, they have also taken many calls from people who have generators and supplies to loan, rent, sell or give. "Some really want to buy, too - especially those who are being told the power may not be on for another few weeks," she said.

"The generosity is a true showing of what Nebraskans are made of. There are a lot of Nebraskans trying to help each other out. Small town residents are really looking out for each other, I've even heard stories of fire departments driving their trucks into the fields to get water to the animals."

Families are also packing in with each other in homes that do have the power back on. The Rev. Kathy Bryan said she knows many of her parishioners are sheltering with each other. "They're pulling together well," said Bryan, pastor of First Christian Church in Minden, Neb. "I've had members who have had to turn off the water in their pipes and move into town here with family."

Bryant's also had church and community members coming in and out of her house to take showers, and said local community centers are allowing the same thing. Food is also being given out since so many have lost refrigerators and freezers to the power outages.

The power situation near Minden, Kearney (where Bryant's husband pastors), and a few other towns is better than some areas, she said, but still pretty bleak. "The ice was so heavy it just started snapping everything. There are hundreds of miles of poles down. I drove out to some of the rural areas and the poles looked like dominoes."

As the power outages continue, the needs are growing. Nebraska's Interchurch Ministries runs a Rural Response Hotline year-round, which has become even busier since the New Year's storm. "The hotline is swamped and we've brought in extra staff to help out," said Marilyn Mecham, Interchurch Ministries' executive. "When people call in, we do a needs assessment. We have a lot of resources available and so we try to find the best way to meet their needs."

Mecham said the biggest needs are fuel and generators, but that many are also saying their freezers and refrigerators are failing when the power comes back on. Water damage from frozen pipes is also becoming a problem, she added. In any case, the hotline and Interchurch Ministries is prepared to help in any way it can.

"We work with many ecumenical partners and with (the Nebraska chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster - VOAD). Everybody's bringing to the table what they have - their expertise, gifts and graces. We're figuring out how to best utilize them to meet all the needs."

Because of the huge volume of calls the Interchurch Ministries Rural Response Hotline is receiving, the agency and VOAD are asking for more monetary donations to help the families in need. According to a Nebraska Emergency Management Agency press release:

"As of Wednesday afternoon, the requests for assistance made to the Nebraska Rural Response Hotline are significantly beyond the resources available - and dozens of requests are coming in daily. In partnership with the Nebraska VOAD...the Hotline has coordinated efforts with many volunteer organizations throughout the state, such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Church World Services, and other voluntary agencies. Through these organizations, some funding assistance has been secured - but more is needed.

"In response to the recent storms, the Nebraska VOAD has been conferencing daily for nearly a week, identifying and addressing the unmet needs of Nebraska citizens. Anyone wishing to donate to the recovery effort is encouraged to call the Hotline toll-free number at 800-464-0258. The Nebraska VOAD stresses that monetary donations are being accepted for this effort, but that there is no request or provision for material donations at this time."

A representative from the Federal Emergency Management Agency said that the monetary donations to the VOAD are being used to "issue vouchers (to families) for fuel to power their generators and keep their homes warm."

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Related Links:

Kansas Livestock Association

Nebraska Dept. of Agriculture

Interchurch Ministries

Nebraska Dept. of Emergency Management

Kansas Dept. of Emergency Management

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