Power outages to last past Christmas

State officials said about 87,000 Eastern Kentucky residences remained without power and 15,700 had no running water as nightfall approached Sunday and temperatures dipped below freezing.

More than a foot of heavy, wet snow snapped trees in the easternmost portion of the state over the weekend, leaving many residents stranded in cold houses that might not have power restored by Christmas.

Dozens of others made their way to emergency shelters in 10 counties.

In Pike County, Totie Crig lor sought refuge in a high school with her husband, Tim, and their 8-day old daughter, Tessa, after losing power Friday night.

Totie Criglor said it was the first time they had gone to a shelter. "We came for the baby's sake, to keep her warm," she said.

Kentucky National Guard Brig. Gen. John Heltzel said the main power lines were up in Eastern Kentucky, but wires feeding power into residential areas had collapsed. Heltzel expects power to be restored to half the affected area by Wednesday, with the rest done by Sunday.

Gov. Steve Beshear, who toured parts of Eastern Kentucky on Sunday, said state officials are pushing to have power restored by Christmas.

"We've got to get this power back up as quickly as possible," he said at a stop in Neon.

On Saturday, Beshear declared a state of emergency and dispatched 200 Kentucky National Guard troops to clear roadways in the region.

At the height of the storm, 106,190 customers in 26 eastern and southeastern counties were reported without power.

More than two-thirds of those still without power Sunday afternoon were customers of Kentucky Power Co., a subsidiary of American Electric Power Co. The state Public Service Commission reported Sunday morning that Kentucky Power had more than 1,200 people working to restore power.

Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford said 23,851 houses in Pike County remained without power as of mid-afternoon Sunday. The number of houses without power in Pike County had been as high as 35,000 on Saturday.

Among other challenges facing Pike County Sunday:

■ About 10,000 residents were without water. Bottled water was being hauled to the area.

■ Five shelters were open and being used by 100 people.

■ Crews were working to get food to people who could not get out of their homes.

■ Officials were trying to get word out about proper use of kerosene heaters to avoid injuries or deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning and fires.

About three dozen people spent the night in a Red Cross shelter at Pike Central High School in Pikeville, near the Kentucky-West Virginia line.

"We're together, so that's what I'm thankful for. Everybody is warm and safe," said Marlena Varnes, who spent the night in the shelter with her husband, Daniel, and their eight children. "It's better than being cold."

State Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, said Eastern Kentucky looked like "a war zone" — a jumble of downed trees and power lines coated in snow. People are buying out kerosene and batteries from every store that has or regains electricity, Hall said.

"We're hunkered down," he said.

The breadth of the storm is what made it particularly hard on Eastern Kentucky, where residents generally have family nearby to stay with during a power outage or an emergency, said Mary Alice Oldfield, a Red Cross volunteer at the Pikeville shelter, where hard chairs and cots were spread around.

"The outage is so widespread, it's going to be hard to find a family member with electricity," Oldfield said.

Temperatures during the next few days generally will be just warm enough to avoid frozen pipes and just cool enough to keep many refrigerated items from spoiling, said John Jacobson, a senior meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Jackson.

"You can just put some snow in there around the food; you don't even need to buy ice," Jacobson said.

He said 5.4 inches of rain in the region earlier this month probably loosened up tree roots enough to make them especially susceptible to the weight of heavy snow.

Temperatures will be about 30 degrees the next few nights and top out at about 40 in the day, Jacobson predicted.

While there will be some trace amounts of snow, the next significant precipitation shouldn't be until Wednesday night when rain moves in.

"There's nothing that should hamper recovery efforts the next few days," he said.