Power is iffy throughout the city

The crack of wood breaking, the clatter of ice and limbs hitting the ground. Then silence. The lights are out.

For Lexington, it was the rerun of a cold, dark nightmare.

Ray Garman and his wife, GiGi, sounded like severe-weather veterans as chain saws whirred and buzzed outside their dark home on East Main Street.

"We're used to it. We did 71/2 days last time," Ray Garman said. He was referring to the February 2003 ice storm that paralyzed much of Lexington for a week.

An estimated 36,500 homes and businesses were without power at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Lexington.

More power losses were expected Wednesday night as tree limbs surrendered to the weight of ice, but the city seemed to escape the worst of the weather that whacked Kentucky. Statewide, at least 525,000 were without power Wednesday, compared to 281,000 in 2003.

This time, we knew the drill.

At the Garmans', limbs from a large pin oak and a power pole lay in their front yard. Ray Garman hiked to a service station for gas for their generator. They also fired up the kerosene heater they purchased after the '03 storm.

Mayor Jim Newberry and Pat Dugger, director of the city's Division of Emergency Management, said people seemed more prepared this time around. Officials also said that, because so many weak trees fell in the '03 storm, there are fewer around to cause problems.

With the closing of Fayette County schools, the University of Kentucky and a number of offices, traffic was light. On side streets, getting from one place to another often meant weaving around drooping limbs. Two to three dozen roads were at least partially blocked.

At least 40 traffic lights weren't working. Police directed traffic at most of them; the others became impromptu four-way stops.

There were many instances of people helping others pull limbs from roadways, or pushing cars when tires would only spin on the snow and ice.

By 2 p.m. Wednesday, the city had activated its Emergency Operations Center to coordinate emergency responses between police, fire and public works. The city also opened a shelter at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, as well as its community centers, for those who did not have heat.

On Oxford Circle in the Cardinal Valley neighborhood, Michelle Hernandez said her family lost power about 10 a.m. "We're just huddling together," she said.

Police officers and firefighters remained busy. Between 6 p.m. Tuesday and 5:00 p.m. Wednesday, firefighters responded to 260 emergency calls. Roughly half of those were for flooding or electrical fires from downed power lines.

Police responded to 69 non-injury accidents and six minor-injury collisions Wednesday.

In addition, garbage pick-up has been canceled again for Thursday as waste management workers help clear roads. Also, 12 members of the Kentucky National Guard will help clean up debris Thursday, Newberry said.

Heat and electricity were out for almost six hours at the Ballard-Griffith Towers off Jefferson Street. By mid-afternoon, power had been restored to the Griffith Tower, but not in Ballard Tower.

Residents were asked if they wanted to be evacuated. None did.

Serendipitously, each of the 301 residents had received an emergency package last week with a transistor radio, flashlight and extra batteries.

Power was out for hours at the Salvation Army on West Main Street. Plans were made to evacuate the 131 people to Rupp Arena, but the lights came back on.

The Salvation Army's new mobile kitchen prepared to serve meals Wednesday night at the African Kanisa Apartments and Christian Towers, both without power.

Some people chose a city shelter over a cold house. Tom Roark went to Dunbar High to keep warm after waking up and discovering that his power was out.

A tree fell in the back yard of his Clays Mill Road home, knocking out power. It was déjà vu for the cook. Another tree had done the same thing in the 2003 ice storm. "I knew it was going to get worse. Last time it took 10 days," he said.

He set up a cot and was ready to sleep at Dunbar if necessary. If it hadn't been for the shelter, he probably would have slept in his car, he said. "I'm in good spirits. It's great to have a place like this. At least I'll be warm tonight," Roark said.

Charlette Breathett was ready for the electricity to go out long before it actually did, about midnight Tuesday.

When she heard the news reports of possible power outages, she put on thermal underwear and made sure she had batteries for her radio, lighters for her candles and blankets for her bed.

"They said they suspected widespread power outages," Breathett said. "I suspected I would be one of them."

Breathett braved the cold throughout the night, but by morning, she was ready for some assistance. She called the Red Cross, and they sent a vehicle to take her from her Eastland Parkway home to Dunbar High, where she planned to stay until the electricity is back on. "I'm just appreciative of the warmth and the snacks," she said. "This is a great thing."