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Menifee County: Volunteers chip in to clean up

Volunteer firefighter Aaron Stamper and Olivia Gronlund pick through debris looking for personal belongings for their friends Beverly and Ronnie Bowman whose house was destroyed on Opossum Hollow Road as residents continue to recover from Friday's tornado in Menifee County near Frenchburg, Ky., on March 3, 2012. Beverly Bowman was one of two people in Menifee County to die as a result of the storm. Photo by David Stephenson
Volunteer firefighter Aaron Stamper and Olivia Gronlund pick through debris looking for personal belongings for their friends Beverly and Ronnie Bowman whose house was destroyed on Opossum Hollow Road as residents continue to recover from Friday's tornado in Menifee County near Frenchburg, Ky., on March 3, 2012. Beverly Bowman was one of two people in Menifee County to die as a result of the storm. Photo by David Stephenson Lexington Herald-Leader

BOTTS — Scores of volunteers have surged into Menifee County to clear roads of fallen trees, secure people's property and begin cleanup after Friday's tornado swept through this rural area.

By 6:30 a.m. Sunday, Marietta Flannery was in the kitchen of Botts Elementary School on Ky. 460 with a half-dozen volunteers to start cooking breakfast for displaced families and work crews.

"Starting today we're going to serve three hot meals a day," said Flannery, head cook at the school.

County leaders met at 9 a.m. Sunday in the fire station to draft a plan of action that would ensure the best use of volunteers.

"You can't give nobody enough credit for what they're doing. I can't say enough for how citizens have pitched in to help," Menifee County Sheriff's Deputy Donnie Fugett said.

Crammed into the small room were Menifee County Sheriff Rodney Coffey, Fire Chief Johnny Johnson, County Judge-Executive J.D. Trimble and Jennifer Rogers, the county's emergency management director. Also attending was Lt. Adam Evan, commander from the 149th vertical engineer company of the National Guard, and Aaron Brown, trooper first class with the Kentucky State Police.

Brown was sent to the Botts gymnasium to coordinate with the volunteers, many of whom arrived in personal vehicles and came armed with their own equipment, including chain saws and axes to start cutting limbs.

Evan said the Guard would block roads into Opossum Hollow, the hardest hit area, to keep out casual sightseers. Trimble initiated a lockdown Saturday night so strangers could not get into the Opossum Hollow area. But, in addition to the sightseers, it's a matter of safety.

Coffey said his deputies picked up about 30 guns scattered over the fields in Opossum Hollow on Saturday.

"When we saw that, we said we got to get these roads closed down," Coffee said.

Guardsmen and sheriff's deputies also started going up and down each road to "physically count the houses that are damaged and ask what help people needed most," Coffey said.

The sheriff said officials were trying to assess the damage to give a report to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"It's very important when it comes time to get these folks help and get the county help," he said.

By mid-morning, volunteers were streaming into Botts Elementary.

A bus pulled up with 50 young people from Frenchburg Job Corps. They were joined by Menifee County sheriff's deputies, members of the National Guard, Meniffee County firefighters, employees of the forest service and other citizens.

One priority was to get tarps over people's roofs and secure their belongings "as best we can," Fugett added.

Mike Brown, owner of Brown's Home Supply, opened Sunday morning to supply needed tarps and nails.

At one end of the Botts gymnasium, volunteers filled cardboard boxes with canned food, boxes of crackers, peanut butter and bottled water.

"Some people's houses were slightly damaged, others were completely devastated," Fugett said. "But roads have been blocked and cars damaged so some people can't get out. And a lot of people don't have electricity."

At Richard and Bette Dotson's house, five family members and friends from Grundy, Va., arrived before dawn on Sunday to help.

"We started a big bonfire and got to work just burning wood and limbs and broken furniture. That seemed the simplest way to start dealing with things," said Charles Spencer.

The Dotsons' house and the house belonging to their neighbors Chris and Lorrie Bartley were flatten by the tornado. The two couples avoided serious injury by running into the old cistern under the Dotsons' house.

"We got in there a maximum of 20 seconds before it hit," Chris Bartley said.

Looking around the yard where perhaps a dozen people worked, Richard Dotson said, "We've got a total stranger here working. This man brought his Bobcat from Carlisle to help us clean up."

The good Samaritan from Carlisle was Bobby Price, owner of a small construction company, who brought his skid steer, which is similar to a Bobcat compact track loader. He and his cousin, Chad Price, took turns using the machine to scoop up debris from the Dotsons' yard and dump it on the roaring bonfire in the front yard.

Bobby Price said he saw Dotson interviewed on television on Saturday and knew his piece of equipment could help in the clean up.

"If I was in the same situation, I would want somebody to come and help me," Price said.

Richard Dotson said with a grateful tone: "We can't get to thanking them all enough."

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