MADISONVILLE — Sunshine snaked through mangled tree limbs as Kentucky National Guard Pfc. Rebecca Sharp maneuvered along narrow roads of dirt and gravel.
For days, she has ventured out at dawn in Hopkins County with other National Guard members in a military Humvee. They drove miles to knock on doors and tie colored tape around mailboxes.
Though it was more than a week after the vicious ice storm struck Kentucky, Sharp and the other National Guard members still had a long day to complete Thursday.
“It might be a nice, pretty day, but people are still without food. Without power,” Sharp said.
There were few traces of snow and ice in Hopkins County Thursday as temperatures climbed into the 30s. But trees still littered roads, large branches rested on crushed cars and utility crews scrambled to reassemble fallen power lines from last week’s ice storm.
About 5,500 utility workers continued to work throughout Hopkins County. As of Thursday evening, 4,250 people in the county were still without power, said Chris Whelan, director of communications with E.ON U.S. The storm wiped out power for more than 700,000 power customers in the state and contributed to 28 deaths. Workers crossed twig-covered state roads to reach the downed lines. Snapped tree limbs hung precariously over the streets. At some points, workers needed a bulldozer to clear enough debris so they could safely travel.
Richard Cranford, the general foreman with C.W. Wright Construction Company of Richmond, Va., oversaw a crew near Dawson Springs Thursday afternoon. He has helped restore electricity in hurricane- and tornado-ravaged towns for 38 years, but he said he had never seen devastation as bad as what the ice storm left. “I think this here really whacked them,” he said.
Anthony Crews, 47, who lives near Madisonville, rattled off a checklist of years known for bad storms as he chatted with Pvt. Michael Martin of Mount Sterling who was in the Humvee Sharp drove Thursday. None of those storms toppled trees and power lines the way this one did, Crews said.
“This is the worst storm I’ve ever seen,” he said.
The 4,000 National Guard members deployed throughout the state were working methodically through counties with extensive damage. In Hopkins County, the crews started in rural areas hard to reach in local emergency vehicles and far from helpful neighbors.
The Guard members tied color-coded ribbons to mailboxes to indicate how much help was needed: green for those who have power, red or pink if they needed power, water or heat.
Sharp recalled the discoveries the group had made throughout the week: the elderly man in a wheelchair without heat and water; incoherent residents who didn’t realize it was time to call 911; a nurse who had to leave her adult, mentally disabled son without electricity so she could go to work.
By Thursday morning, the Guard members had visited about 6,000 of 16,000 homes in Hopkins County.
Capt. Jason Aliff said the Guard planned to reach all homes in the county by the end of Friday. The process was expected to move faster once crews were within city limits, Aliff said.
Folks stood on front porches or in driveways and waited to address the Guard members. One person said he was doing fine and offered the crew something to drink. At least three or four people directed the crew to other homes where people were without power.
James Majors of Madisonville ran up to the Humvee and spoke into Sharp’s unzipped window when he saw the Guard members come down the road. He said his power had returned at 7 the night before.
“God bless ya’ll,” Majors said. “We appreciate all ya’ll’s hard work.”