Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward is hopeful the county will be reimbursed for some of the cost of cleaning up after last week’s winter snowstorm caused more than 7,000 residences to be without power for several days.
“It will be an ongoing cost,” said Ward. “It will probably take us three or four months to clean up all the debris.”
Ward said Gov. Steve Beshear declared a state of emergency and is trying to get a presidential declaration which would make it easier to apply for money from Emergency Management and FEMA.
“We hope to get the biggest part of it reimbursed,” said Ward.
Residents without power were able to get warm and were also served hot meals at six county senior citizens centers during the widespread power outage.
Ward said the biggest undertaking by the county last week was to clear roads of fallen trees.
“Our main priority was to get people in and out,” said Ward. “We just cut our way through to make sure fire departments and ambulances could get through.”
Ward said beginning at 6 a.m. on Dec. 19, he and Deputy Judge Eddie Meade began clearing trees so county workers could get out to work.
“Our road department worked tirelessly,” said Ward. “We worked until 10 or 11 each night. Some even slept at the garage so they could work early. Our Pine Mountain Search and Rescue worked nonstop. Our fire departments worked nonstop.”
Ward said most county residents had power back on by Dec. 27 with the exception of McPeak’s Branch and Marshall’s Branch, which is located near the Pike/ Letcher County line. That area was considered to be in the Pikeville district.
“They had some major problems,” said Ward. “They were still working on that Monday.”
Ward said about 200 county residents did not have electricity on Christmas Day.
“By Christmas night most people had power except for a few little isolated areas,” said Ward.
Ward said he has talked with personnel from the Kentucky Public Service Commission, legislators and employees with Kentucky Power Company about keeping rights-of-way cleared near power lines and power poles. Ward said he even talked with power company administrators about having a public meeting to let people explain their situations.
Ward said the Emergency Management Department and members of Pine Mountain Search and Rescue will soon have a meeting to discuss “what didn’t work and what did work.”
“There is always room for improvement,” said Ward.
Letcher County Emergency Management Director Paul Miles said the county did the best it could given the circumstances.
“It was just a rough time for everybody without power,” said Miles. “It was just a bad inconvenience for everyone.”
Ward said he thought the onecall system worked well with informing people where they could go for assistance, even though many people use cordless phones that don’t work when the electricity is off. He suggested people keep an old rotary phone to use when the power goes out.
“We tried to alert everyone best we could,” said Ward.
Ward said two AM radio stations were used to broadcast information. He didn’t know what else could be done but go door to door.
Ward said the county was prepared for the snow to start falling on Dec. 18.
“We knew it was coming,” said Ward. “We had all of our generators and kerosene ready. I had everyone that worked for the county ready to come to work.”
Ward said if the county gets another heavy wet snow this winter, the county will follow similar procedures to last week.
“The National Guard said they had worked a lot of these and said we were the most prepared and professional of anyplace they had been called in,” said Ward.