Winter Storm 2009 in Western Kentucky

white winter gifWe have had ice storms. We have had power outages. We have many a weatherman say that this could be a “big one”. Most of the time such warnings bring about a rush to the grocery store to purchase an extra gallon of milk and a few extra bags of potato chips.

On Monday night at about 9:00 pm on January 26, 2009 I dropped our oldest son off at Grandma’s house where he would have more one on one attention should there be no school and found myself at Wal-Mart stocking up on groceries. The weather man predicted that this could be a storm where power might go out and it occurred to me that our charcoal grill from the summer of 2008 had been retired with the plans to purchase a new one the next summer. Wal-Mart had just put away Christmas ornaments and was starting to put out gardening and spring-like items and so I picked up the only grill they had which was a table top charcoal grill with a grill top that was about one foot in diameter with two bags of charcoal—just in case it got really bad!

The drive home to Marion from Paducah generally took about an hour. The sleet had started to fall and the newscasters were warning people to get home and stay home. The car tires began to slip and the more I progressed toward home the heavier was the precipitation. Two hours later I arrived home to a worried husband and settled in for what I figured would be a long day or two.

The eight children who were at home were excited to awaken to a snow day! They made plans to sled as soon as the snow would stop. We waited and watched and listened as the weatherman said that a second wave of ice was hitting and that they were anticipating a third wave. Chili sounded like the perfect meal for an icy day so preparations were made for a chili dinner. Just as the chili was heating the lights blinked off for about a minute and then came back on. It was nearly three in the afternoon but we began looking for every flashlight that we could find. The electricity blinked once more and then was gone. We weren’t too worried. We’d had the electricity off for a day or two at a time. This would be an adventure! We put the pot of chili in the refrigerator and ate Poptarts and crackers for dinner.

A thick layer of ice covered everything outside. We had not seen a single vehicle on the road all day and neither of our neighbors had left their houses. The radio warned that a third round of storms was on its way.

The temperature outside was in the 20’s. Although our heat was fueled by gas we discovered that electricity was required to run the central heating system. The house became progressively colder over the evening. At around 6:00 it began to get dark and my husband and I began preparing the children for bed. By 6:30 it was totally dark outside and eerily so since the streetlights were all out. We sent flashlights to each bedroom and made sure all of the kids had plenty of blankets and since it was so dark and cold we all went to bed early.

It was a cold night (around 10 degrees)! The morning brought that third round of storms and, by the time the ice stopped falling there was an inch and a half of ice. The temperature remained in the twenties throughout the day and on our crank radio (which had been a Christmas present just a month ago from my mother) we heard that it was to be in the teens that night. With the ice no longer falling we pulled out the charcoal grill, fired it up, and heated the chili. It was Wednesday and the second snow day in a row. The temperature inside the house made the idea of a snow day not quite so enjoyable. The kids were bundled up in layer upon layer and really just sat around with blankets on because it was too cold to do anything. As I was washing bowls from eating chili I noticed that the water pressure was not so good. I was worried (but not surprised) that the pipes were beginning to freeze. This time opening the cabinets that hide the pipes wouldn’t provide much heat to keep them from freezing and leaving the hot water dripping wouldn’t help either because we have an electric water heater! I hoped that the temperature would come up in the coming days and that the pipes wouldn’t burst in the meantime. We had stocked about eight twenty-four packs of bottled water so we knew we’d be alright for drinking water. Within four hours the trickle of water had stopped completely. We hunkered down for the night with lots of blankets around 6:30 in the evening.

Wednesday morning brought about two inches of snow and a realization that no water meant that toilets would not flush. We had drinking water but had not stored water for washing and flushing. We shut bathroom doors, had little boys go outside to take care of their routine potty needs, and prayed for the water to come on soon.

Wednesday came and went and no one around appeared to be leaving their houses. No cars were on the roads. The world was eerily quiet.

The world was so quiet. No one inside was warm enough to run around and play and enjoy the days off. No one outside was leaving their homes. The ice prevented any vehicle from being able to be on the roads. We had seen no one outside of our home since Monday night.

Thursday dawned a brilliant day! The sun shined without a cloud in the sky. Everything glittered as if covered in crystal. The temperature was still in the low 20’s so not too much melting occurred. The weight of the ice, however, began to take a toll on the poor tree limbs. As we stood in the back door and looked at the glimmering world around us we heard branches and entire trees crashing down in the woods as if some unseen force were chopping away. The crash of the icy branches on the icy woods floor below was constant. The wind blew fairly briskly which added to the trauma.

On Thursday afternoon our neighbor and her son came to the door. She asked if we were all OK. She said that the water pipes were not frozen but that electricity was out in the entire county including the water treatment facility and that there was no water anywhere in the county except those who had wells (and if the wells were run by electricity they wouldn’t likely have water either). Although we were listening to our crank radio for hours at a time we had not heard a single word about what was going on in Crittenden County. Our neighbor told us that her husband had spoken to a neighbor who is a police officer and found out that the county was unable to convey to the media our needs in Crittenden County because all phone and cell phone coverage was down. (Cell phone towers require electricity to operate and electricity was out, except in very few spots, throughout the entire 14 county region) She said, however, that county officials were beginning to estimate that water could be out in our county for up to a month and that electricity would likely be out for at least that long. She said that county officials were encouraging people to evacuate if they were able and to get to the only shelter in the county which was at the elementary school in town if they were not able to leave town. She said, however, that the elementary school did not have electricity or running water and that the National Guard and FEMA had not been able to get into the area yet because of the ice on the roads.

On Thursday afternoon Howard and I made an attempt to dig our van out of the driveway. After an hour or so of attempting we saw that it would not be possible. We did, however, sit in the van for a few minutes (we rotated kids as well) and thawed with the heat on! We were able to hear from the radio that someone from Crittenden (our county) had gotten word to the radio stations that Crittenden was in need of supplies and help to get to people who were having medical emergencies. Ambulances and police cars were unable, at that point, to get to anyone other than those on the main road. Hope was that the National Guard would be able to get to the shelter within a day or so and bring a generator. They were suggesting that if people were able to get to the shelters that they bring their own bedding, food, water, and medications. They could provide no more than a place to stay for the time being.

When we discovered that toilet flushing water would not be forthcoming any time soon we decided to get creative. We lit a fire in the charcoal grill, heated some canned food, ate, and then used the remaining embers to melt snow which we scraped off of the ground. It took four pots of melted snow to flush the toilet one time. That took about an hour.

The sun blessed us again on Friday. By this time all of us were feeling quite grimy (no baths if there is no water!) The temperature outside was still in the 20s but the sunshine had really increased the amount of melting! We put plastic tubs in the front of the house to catch the melted ice that fell off the roof! We used that water to flush toilets! The water was crystal clear and cold (as ice!) and yet we washed our faces, our hands, and my teenaged daughter even washed her hair! Our spirits were high because it was such a beautiful day. We ran in the yard and attempted to build a snowman. In the afternoon we even had a visit from the state police. My family in Paducah (an hour away) were worried because they had not heard from us. Their power had come back on and they had cell phone coverage and weren’t able to reach us. They sent the police to us for a “welfare check”. We told the police that we were all well and alive. They asked what we needed. We told them we had plenty of drinking water for now but that we couldn’t get our car out of the driveway. He said “Join the club!” and left. We continued scraping the driveway and Howard eventually got his car out of the driveway. He drove to town only to find that nothing at all was open. He came home and we put the kids to bed at dark (6:30) again and waited for what Saturday would bring.

The ice continued to melt on Saturday. I drove into town to see if there was any way to get more charcoal and to see if we could find any supplies. One bank in town had opened (still no electricity) and was allowing people to withdraw $50 a day. I withdrew the cash they would allow (one person at a time in the bank and they used flashlights to do the transaction.) One gas station in town was running on a generator and allowing people to fill one car with $10 worth of gas if you had cash to pay. Police officers ushered one car at a time. The line was WAY down the road (maybe a quarter of a mile long). I filled with $10 worth of gas and headed to the grocery store. The grocery store did not have electricity but was allowing people in about three at a time and they would allow you to walk with their cashier who took each item that you wanted and wrote the price of the item with a magic marker onto the item and then added your purchases with a calculator and took cash only as payment. They only allowed people to purchase the necessities… food (no perishables-they were deemed unfit) and charcoal and toilet paper. Everyone was quiet and it was a spooky, ghost town feeling. I went home in awe of how scary a situation it had become.

On Saturday afternoon my aunt and uncle from Paducah showed up at the house. They came and bundled up kids and helped us get the big van out of the driveway. We all went to Paducah to stay with my aunt, uncle, two cousins, my mother, my sister and brother, my brother in law, my nieces and nephews, and my grandmother (that was twenty one people total in the house) who had electricity and running water! We stayed with them through Tuesday (one week exactly from when the electricity went out!) when we came back to take care of our dogs and found the electricity was back on and the water was running (though there was still a boil water order for another three days!)

Some people in our area were still without electricity for another two weeks. It is now May 22 and the cities and counties are still trying to clean up tree limbs and winter storm debris. In the papers it has been reported that the damage to trees will be felt for generations to come.

Howard’s 2 cents: – The total debris (trees/tree limbs) gathered for clean-up so far (May 22nd) for District One in Western Kentucky (which makes up around 4 or 5 counties) adds up to 3,053,615 cubic yards. – 40,000 dump trucks have been used so far in the clean-up process. If you lined the trucks up end to end they would span about 280 miles.

What I had not anticipated: – Though we had enough drinking water, I had not stored enough water for flushing toilets, hygiene purposes beyond brushing teeth. – As the town was coming alive again, having cash was a necessity. We did not keep much at home (usually used a debit card). – Even when places were starting to open again, don’t assume you can get the supplies you need. Everyone is wanting the same thing. It took weeks for some things to stay on shelves again. – This storm isolated everyone (even the county) from each other and the rest of the world. One week can seem like an eternity and there where many who were without power for up to 4 weeks.

What I learned: – You can never be too prepared – Different situations call for different needs, so it is important to anticipate as many scenarios as possible that could cause a crisis – I had always thought about emergency preparedness, but an Ice storm caught me by surprise. You never know what can hit you. – Stay positive, have faith that God will provide you with what you need – I relearned that trials are for us to become stronger in the gospel

What I would do differently: – Have more emergency cash stored somewhere – Have a whole lot more water – Already have a list of things to keep the family occupied (games, etc.) to keep them busy and their mind off of other problems – Talk more with my family about preparedness and potential problems.

What I’m glad I did: – The whole family kept an unusually positive attitude, despite how scary the situation was. We are not a gripey, argumentative family anyway, but given the circumstances, we had an incredibly positive attitude (both parents and all 8 kids) – I’m sure this was due to increased scripture reading and prayers that we had during this time (the extra time in the house gave us plenty of opportunity for this) – Having a grill outside was great and saved us especially for melting ice. (a propane one would have been even better in this situation I think, but we had enough charcoal.

Howard & Willa S., Paducah Kentucky Winter 2009

Animated gif by LDS Intelligent Living


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