The death toll in Kentucky from last week's storms rose to 23 Wednesday after state officials learned of a Somerset woman who died in her closet after taking shelter there.
Helen Placke, 74, was found Monday at her home on Hamilton Avenue, Pulaski County Coroner Richard New said.
Placke's home was not damaged by the storm, but New said she probably sought shelter in the closet when tornado warnings were issued.
The inside doorknob of the closet had come off, and when Placke tried to put it back in, the outside knob came off, and she couldn't open the door, New said.
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Placke is thought to have died after spending hours trapped in the closet without water or her heart medicine, he said. New said the exact day when she died was uncertain.
"It's going to be ruled an accidental death, indirect from the storm," New said.
Gathel Mounce, Placke's sister, said Placke was a widow who lived alone. Mounce, who lives in Pulaski County, said she drove to Placke's house when Placke did not answer her telephone Monday.
Mounce said she contacted police to help her get inside a locked storm door, and police then discovered Placke in the closet.
Placke, a retired school cafeteria worker, had no living children. Twin sons died at birth in 1976, said her niece Sharon Sloan. She said Placke doted on her nieces and nephews.
"She was a special person," Sloan said.
Visitation will be 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Pulaski Funeral Home. Services will be at 1 p.m. Friday.
The death total from tornadoes last week now includes one death in Pulaski, three in Menifee, six in Morgan County, two in Lawrence County, two in Johnson County, five in Laurel County and four in Kenton County, Kentucky Army National Guard Specialist Andrew Easley said.
Funding starts to flow
Gov. Steve Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson again toured several tornado-ravaged areas of the state Wednesday, a day after President Barack Obama issued a major disaster declaration for Kentucky.
The president's action makes federal funding available to businesses and residents in Johnson, Kenton, Laurel, Lawrence, Menifee, Morgan, and Pendleton counties. Assistance may include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.
Magoffin County, where a tornado destroyed dozens of buildings in Salyersville, was not included in the declaration because damage assessments have not been completed, said Buddy Rogers, a spokesman for the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management. Rogers said the county could be included after the assessments are finished.
He said anyone whose home was damaged by Friday's storm in any county should document the damage by taking photos, saving repair receipts and contacting their insurance agents and their local emergency management directors.
The damage assessments will continue until all counties that declared states of emergency because of Friday's storms have been surveyed, Rogers said.
Claims coming in
Insurance claims were mounting Wednesday.
Greg Kosse, spokesman for Kentucky Farm Bureau Insurance, said claims have topped 12,000, including 80 for uninhabitable homes.
The number is expected to rise now that adjusters have gained access to the heavily damaged town of West Liberty.
"We are just now starting to get claims in from Morgan County," Kosse said.
Kip Diggs of State Farm Insurance said 2,100 home claims had been received and more are expected.
"It's been a challenge getting into some areas, but it just takes time," Diggs said.
An official at Time Warner Cable said the company responded to a customer Wednesday whose mobile home was destroyed in East Bernstadt in Laurel County. The customer had complained publicly that Time Warner was charging her $735 for equipment lost during the tornado.
"If she was told that by anyone with Time Warner cable, it was in error, and we certainly apologize for that," spokesman Jason Keller said. "On Saturday morning, we suspended all credit and collections work" in the affected areas.
The company will not charge customers whose equipment was lost or damaged as a result of the storms, a Time Warner statement said.