State steps in to help

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 20, 2003

While digging its way out of ice, downed power lines and trees, Lawrence County will now get help from the state.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Bob Taft declared a state of emergency in Lawrence County, Dick Kimmins, public information officer for the State of Ohio Emergency Management Agency, said. This means that Lawrence County can now receive help from 11 state agencies such as the National Guard to clear up the mess that the weekend's storms left behind.

Also, local governments, which include cities, villages and the entire county, can be reimbursed for up to 75 percent of costs incurred as a result of the storm, Kimmins said. These costs include debris removal, overtime costs, contract work and equipment rental.

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County Commission President George Patterson was pleased to hear the news. Lawrence County, like almost any other county in the state, does not have much money, and this will help people get the help they need.

Patterson also expressed concern for the elderly and young children affected by the cold weather and the loss of electricity. One of his neighbors with a three-week old baby had to stay in a hotel.

Commissioner Doug Malone agreed that the state help is needed.

"This is good news," he said. "I went through 141 and through Myrtle Ridge. I don't think people realize how much damage was done in the county. This is the worst on record for a while."

Malone said he had talked to a power company lineman who had helped repair a downed line Wednesday. After he and his co-workers repaired the line, a tree fell on top of it.

"It was that type of storm," he said.

Virtually every agency in the county, including volunteer fire departments and the EMA, has chipped in to help clear the damage caused by the storm, Malone said.

Commissioner Jason Stephens agreed that getting state help was good news, but this declaration does not make the situation of many county residents who have no electricity or water any easier.

"People are hurting and everyone is trying to help them," he said.

Shirley Jenkins, who lives north of Ironton, said her asthmatic ex-husband is on a breathing machine, and has had to use a push pump since his electricity went off. All of her meats in the refrigerator have spoiled, and she and her family have to cook on a small gas stove. Because there is no hot water, they are having to heat water on the stove, then "sponge off" rather than take a bath, she said.

Kitts Hill resident Patricia Littlejohn finally made it off her "mountain" Wednesday.

"I went to South Point, and it's like spring there, but it's winter here in Kitts Hill," she said.

Littlejohn and her family are cooking on a small barbecue grill, and she said Wednesday that she had not showered since Saturday. One of her neighbors went to a school in Raceland, Ky., to shower yesterday because it was opened for that purpose. Her family has gas heating, but some of her neighbors are without electric heat. Even though they did put some items in coolers, almost everything in the refrigerator has been lost.

"It's like camping, like living out in the wilderness," she said. "You use what you can. It's amazing how electricity has been taken for granted."

Being a resident of Porter Gap, Rusty White lives within a very short distance of downtown Ironton. However, he also has no electricity.

"If we don't get electricity before long, we don't know what we're going to do," he said.

White and his family are using candles for light and are also using coolers on porches to keep food fresh. However, with temperatures warming soon, he does not know how much longer the food will stay fresh. A power pole broke near his house, and his elderly in-laws next door can't get out of their driveway because of downed lines. He frequently goes to get them kerosene as well as fast food. His family is cooking on a grill.

"Sometimes, it does become a pain," he said. "I'm tired of all the running."

White's son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren are staying with him because of his son's working hours.

"That's the great thing about living in Lawrence County - you're never too far from family," Stephens said. "You always have family, friends or neighbors nearby that are willing to help. The government can only do so much. It takes everyone to make it work."

As of 7 a.m. Thursday, AEP reported a total of 1,800 customers in the Ironton area and 310 in the Chesapeake area were still without power. Residents in the Ironton area are expected to have power restored by late Saturday, and Chesapeake-area residents are expected to have electricity by later Friday.

Due to a high-volume of calls, Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative representatives could not be reached for contact this morning. A recording, however, reported some 2,500 customers scattered about Lawrence, Gallia and Jackson counties were still without power.