Hurricane or blizzard, Kentuckians head east to help fight huge storm

Kentuckians were in place or soon would be Monday to help feed and shelter people and restore power in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.

American Red Cross volunteer Rich Conaway of Lexington was on his way to Bloomfield, W.Va., about 120 miles northeast of Charleston, the state capital, to assist with a shelter that would open in anticipation of power outages there because of predicted heavy snowfall. He spent Sunday night in Charleston and then was reassigned to Bloomfield.

"They already have shelters open, but they don't have enough support, so that's why I'm heading that way," Conaway said by telephone. "I could get there, and if they don't have supplies, I've got to drive and go get them. If they don't have enough staff, I jump in and help the staff. If we have people who can't get to the shelter, I will take food and necessary items to them."

Conaway, 44, was driving an emergency response vehicle loaded with eating utensils and heat sources for preparing food. "I can transport food, if need be, to hand out to people," he said. "I can transport three skids of water if I need to."

The last time he managed a shelter for a hurricane-related disaster was in Louisiana in the wake of Isaac, the late-summer storm that battered the Gulf Coast in August.

"The main priority of shelter staff is to have a safe, comfortable environment for the residents that are there," Conaway said. "We want it to be a safe environment for everybody."

Ron Shipman, another Red Cross volunteer from Albany in southern Kentucky, also was in Charleston, trying to line up other volunteers to feed and staff shelters.

"There are a few counties that are going to get hit worse, and right now they have less than two persons (volunteers) per shelter, so it's going to be a real scramble," Shipman said by telephone.

He needed to get volunteers from all over West Virginia in place before the snow hits, he said, "because once it starts snowing, we cannot get in there. So we're trying to get all the supplies up to them right now so we can supply them and so people will be all right for quite a few days."

Shipman, 56, anticipated he would be deployed later to help feed residents at a shelter.

To have a blizzard associated with a hurricane is "very, very, very rare," he said. "That's what's throwing everyone off."

The Bluegrass Chapter of the American Red Cross also sent two volunteers to New York, one to New Jersey and one to West Virginia. No additional volunteers were to be sent until after the storm made landfall, said Winn Stephens, director of development for the Red Cross in Lexington.

The storm made landfall Monday evening in New Jersey.

By early Monday, the Red Cross had opened and managed 112 shelters in nine states with about 3,250 residents. More shelters were scheduled to open later Monday.

Meanwhile, Kentucky Utilities and Louisville Gas and Electric sent more than 300 people — including some full-time employees and some contractors — to Pennsylvania to help with power restoration, KU spokesman Cliff Feltham said.

The workers were sent to assist PPL Electric Utilities, a subsidiary of KU and LG&E's parent company, PPL Corp., in the Philadelphia area.

"They left early Saturday morning, and most of them got there probably last night and were just waiting for the storm to come through and waiting for something to respond to," Feltham said.

PPL asked for the early deployment so workers "could hit the ground running" after the storm, Feltham said.

The line technicians and tree crews, who came from all over Kentucky, will be deployed once outages occur, he said. Tree crews are typically deployed first because "they've got to cut up the tree limbs and get the trees out of the way so the line techs can do their work."

LG&E and KU participate in nationwide mutual-assistance agreements, in which a collection of utility companies assist other utilities in times of natural disaster and other crises.

This was the second time in 2012 that crews have been dispatched to help hurricane-ravaged areas. In August, LG&E and KU sent 204 employees and Kentucky-based contractors to help Entergy Corp. restore power after Hurricane Isaac hit the Gulf Coast.

Such situations are adrenaline-pumping experiences, said Red Cross volunteer Conaway, who was a firefighter in the military.

"When you get a call, you get dressed and you leave. Just the sheer fact of somebody needing help and I was able to take time out of my life to give needs to somebody else, that's all the reward I need," Conaway said. "The satisfaction of, 'Thank you, I needed a warm place to lay my head, and you made that happen' — that's what we're here for."