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Lexington residents rejoice as their power is restored

Residents along Georgetown Road in north Lexington stepped into their snowy yards to watch happily Friday as utility workers climbed poles, promising to get things fixed within hours.

Charles Smith, on Glen Arvin Avenue, has been staying with friends since the ice storm knocked out power in his neighborhood.

"I could have turned the burners on the gas stove and tried to stay warm that way, but I didn't have anywhere in the kitchen to stretch out and lay down," Smith said.

Utility crews began switching on the electricity to large swaths of Lexington neighborhoods that had been without power since early Wednesday, but they face days more of work before their job will be done.

Still, the delicate process of restoring power that brought relief for some meant new darkness for others as the city's power system groaned under the weight of sudden spikes in demand and a continued assault of falling tree branches.

More than 27,500 electricity customers in Fayette were out of power Friday, down from about 40,000 the day before.

About 26,100 of those still in the cold and dark are served by Kentucky Utilities Co., which has 138,125 total customers in the county.

KU has brought in extra help from out-of-state crews to help restring fallen lines and cut away broken tree limbs — a move utility officials initially didn't think they'd have to make.

"We could handle it ourselves, but to do it efficiently and quickly, it helps to have extra resources in," said KU spokesman Cliff Feltham. "The objective is to get as many people on as quickly and as safely as we can."

In addition to 37 KU workers, 191 utility crew members from out-of-state companies are working throughout Lexington, he said. They are using the old Continental Inn property at New Circle and Winchester roads as a home base. Friday brought the first sign of light some neighborhoods had seen since Tuesday night.

In the Versailles Road and Parkers Mill area, homes also started getting power Friday afternoon. The substation serving that area shut down about 6 a.m. Wednesday. Workers got it running and switched on the first batch of houses shortly after 2 p.m. Friday.

They must bring the power back gradually to neighborhoods because switching it all on at once would cause hundreds of furnaces to run at full blast to warm up buildings that have become ice boxes.

"Our system is simply not built for that amount of load at one time," said Donna Goodrich, group leader of KU's distribution control center.

Goodrich serves as gatekeeper for outage information, which she can monitor through a computerized database and neighborhood maps. Lines in red and green on her maps signify that power is flowing to homes. White lines mean outages.

About 2 p.m. Friday, a network of white lines appeared in the Mason-Headley Road area near St. Joseph Hospital office park. A circuit went down and crews were scrambling to get that back up, especially because of the hospital, Goodrich said.

Small pockets without power

Across Lexington, small clumps of homes, single streets and individual homes remain without electricity.

Goodrich said that as long as people report their outages to KU, they're on the list and marked with specific tags on her computer screen signifying whether the problem is a downed wire, a tree limb on a wire or a "critical call" in which someone with special needs, such as oxygen, lives in the home.

Just north of downtown, Mike Donnelly said he worried that KU wouldn't restore power to his block for a week or more because most surrounding streets still have electricity.

"My thought is, they'll get to us last because they're gonna want to spend their time right now where they can get the most people back online as fast as they can," Donnelly said. "Logically, that makes sense. But it doesn't do us any good."

The Donnellys huddled Friday in the chill of their art-filled home on Bellaire Avenue, off North Broadway, and lamented the fate of their fish. Four days of cold had been rough on them, but it was proving deadly for their fish. The freshwater tank in their living room no longer had heat or an air filter; the back-yard koi pond was freezing over without its heater.

"We lost one," Mike told his wife, pointing to a little body floating in the living room tank.

Roads getting better

The electric outages had knocked out traffic signals at 11 intersections sprinkled across the county, while another five key signals were being powered by generators.

Lexington officials said crews have made progress removing tree limbs from roads with about a third of city streets clear by Friday, said Mike Webb, the city's acting commissioner of public works and development.

The crews were cutting up fallen trees and were pruning limbs dangling over streets. They focused Friday on the Leestown Road corridor, the northern suburbs, and the areas between Nicholasville and Tates Creek roads, Liberty and Winchester roads, and Versailles and Harrodsburg roads.

In the rural areas, crews cleared about 10 percent of the county roads Thursday, Webb said.

Garbage crews also resumed service Friday.

Helping neighbors

Lexington police and Fayette County sheriff's deputies knocked on doors in neighborhoods without power Friday to ask how residents are doing and see whether they needed medical assistance or a ride to a shelter.

"We're in Day Four of this thing now," said Fayette County Sheriff Kathy Witt, as she checked on residents in north Lexington. "Some people we checked on Day Two who said, 'We can tough it out,' maybe now they're reconsidering and want to go somewhere warm."

The Sheriff's office has received more than 300 phone calls from people who needed transportation to shelters, doctor's offices or needed medications, Witt said. She said others who need help might be unable or unwilling to call, so she urged residents to check on neighbors.

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