By Capt. Dale Greer and Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office
/ Published February 06, 2009
LA CENTER, Ky. -- More than 60 Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard remain on duty here and in neighboring communities to distribute food and water to thousands of residents left without heat or electricity following last week's devastating ice storm.
The Airmen, from the Louisville-based 123rd Airlift Wing, deployed to the cities of La Center, Paducah, Bandana and Wickliffe on Feb. 3 and immediately began assisting Kentucky Army Guard troops and civil authorities as part of the largest call-up of National Guard forces in state history.
Today, they are helping staff three distribution points that serve as staging areas for the movement of prepackaged meals, water, oxygen and kerosene into affected communities across Ballard and McCracken Counties, said Capt. Craig Mohr.
"Many of these local families are without power and sustenance, so there's a critical need for this mission," he said.
More than 18,000 meals and 105,000 bottles of water have been distributed locally since the effort began. Statewide, those numbers exceed 800,000 meals and 1.5 million bottles of water, officials said.
"Everybody has been great to work with, from the local residents and county officials to the Army National Guard and the American Red Cross," Captain Mohr said. "Our Airmen have great attitudes, and everybody is really pitching in to get the job done. We're just happy that we can do our part."
Approximately 4,300 Army Guardsmen and more than 300 Air Guardsmen have been activated since Jan. 31 to perform a variety of missions across the Commonwealth, including humanitarian assistance, administrative support to county Emergency Operations Centers, and the removal of tree limbs and debris from major roadways.
Troops also have been conducting door-to-door "wellness checks" to ensure that storm victims are provided with emergency assistance if necessary. Officials have attributed at least three saved lives to the wellness checks after Airmen and Soldiers identified Kentuckians who were suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning or hadn't taken appropriate medications as directed by their doctors.
Kentucky Air Guard troops continued those door-to-door wellness checks and debris operations across Western Kentucky today, where the damage is most severe. About 95 Airmen are assigned to duty in Hopkins County, 19 in Grayson County and eight in Marshall County. The Airmen also conducted relief operations in Breckenridge, Muhlenberg, Daviess, Hancock and Ohio Counties earlier this week.
In Hopkins County, which was hit by catastrophic damage to high-tension electric transmission lines, Guardsmen are knocking on the doors of thousands of homes.
"We have seven teams with 15 vehicles going house to house across the county," said Capt. Shawn Keller. "There are about 20,000 homes here, and we plan to visit every one."
Tech. Sgt. Rob Holland noted that many of the homes are in hard-to-reach areas, requiring the use of four-wheel-drive all-terrain-vehicles to make contact with residents.
"Many of the places we've been to are on hillsides, and those are still quite frozen," he said. "Without the ATVs, we would've had to trek by foot, which can be quite dangerous."
Local residents seem appreciative of the effort.
"Everyone that we've come in contact with while we've been here has been extremely grateful," he said. "They've come out and shaken our hands and told us they appreciate the support."
At the height of storm damage, more than 700,000 customers were without electrical service statewide. As of today, more than 125,000 remain in the dark, according to the state Public Service Commission. To date, the storm has been blamed for 28 deaths and more than $50 million in damage and recovery costs.
Officials are still tabulating exact amounts, but Gov. Steve Beshear announced yesterday in a news conference held at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville that the state has met the minimum standards for federal declaration as a major disaster area.
The designation, declared by President Barack Obama, means that local and state officials will be able to recoup up to 75 percent of recovery costs from the federal government.
Kentucky Air and Army National Guard troops are expected to remain on duty across the commonwealth as long as local officials need their capabilities.
"We're seeing some light at the end of the tunnel in many areas, but we still have a long way to go," Governor Beshear said.
Col. Greg Nelson, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, expressed his appreciation yesterday to civilian employers for the support they are providing to workers who have taken time away from their jobs during the call-up.
"We're the state's militia, and one of our primary missions is to provide support to civil authorities during times of crisis or disaster," Colonel Nelson said. "Our troops are Citizen-Airmen and Citizen-Soldiers who come from all sectors of the civilian community. During times like this, they have to leave their homes, their communities and their civilian jobs to respond to the call for help. We want to thank all the employers for making that possible. We simply could not do our job as Guardsmen and women without their support."