Unforgettable Freeze

Memories of the 2009 ice storm still vivid

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It has been 10 years this month since one of the biggest natural disasters to hit this part of the state, including Ohio County.


On Jan. 27, Ohio County had conditions that were right for what was expected to be snow; it turned out to be much worse. Ice fell instead of snow and it fell in great magnitudes. Approximately 2.5 inches of ice blanketed everything around and in some spots close to a foot of snow helped add to the chaos.


Close to 500,000 residents in the state were without power for nearly a week and 1,500 power lines were down across the county.


Waking up on Jan. 27 was just like any other cold winter day. The power was off, but that wasn’t unusual for those who live in a rural part of the county. But when residents stepped out and took the first glance of what was really going on, most people had never experienced a winter storm like this before.


Roads were impassable and emergency workers had a hard time getting help where it was needed. Jim Peck, former Fordsville firefighter, and retired probation and parole officer, remembers going door-to-door to check on people in remote areas.


“Our community acted fast to set up a shelter and no one was turned away,” Peck remembered.


With trees snapping all around, some describing it as sounding like a “War Zone,” many volunteered to brave the elements and help in whatever way they could.


Beaver Dam Fire Chief Chris Shephard said that the worse part was communication.


“I was driving down the road and saw flames coming from a mobile home and was using my cell phone trying to call firefighters to respond, (since radios were not working at the time),” Shephard said. “I hope that will be a once in a lifetime experience.”


Shephard said there wasn’t much that could be done about the trees being down everywhere except to cut your way through.


Kentucky’s Governor at the time, Steve Beshear, called up the entire Kentucky Army National Guard to deal with the effects of this storm and help cut through the debris. This was the largest National Guard call up in that state’s history. It was reported that Kentucky to 500,000 residents in the state were without power for nearly a week and 1,500 power lines were down across the county.


Waking up on Jan. 27 was just like any other cold winter day. The power was off, but that wasn’t unusual for those who live in a rural part of the county. But when residents stepped out and took the first glance of what was really going on, most people had never experienced a winter storm like this before.


Roads were impassable and emergency workers had a hard time getting help where it was needed. Jim Peck, former Fordsville firefighter and retired probation and parole officer, remembers going door-to-door to check on people in remote areas.


“Our community acted fast to set up a shelter and no one was turned away,” Peck remembered.


With trees snapping all around, some describing it as sounding like a “War Zone,” many volunteered to brave the elements and help in whatever way they could.


Beaver Dam Fire Chief Chris Shephard said that the worse part was communication.


“I was driving down the road and saw flames coming from a mobile home and was using my cell phone trying to call firefighters to respond, (since radios were not working at the time),” Shephard said. “I hope that will be a once in a lifetime experience.”


Shephard said there wasn’t much that could be done about the trees being down everywhere except to cut your way through.


Kentucky’s Governor at the time, Steve Beshear, called up the entire Kentucky Army National Guard to deal with the effects of this storm and help cut through the debris. This was the largest National Guard call up in that state’s history. It was reported that Kentucky National Guard called nearly 4,600 soldiers to help combat the storm.


Kentucky State Trooper Corey King, public affairs spokesman from Kentucky State Police Post 16, reflected on their two main problems.
“Transportation and communication were our problems. Radio towers went out and our Crown Victorias couldn’t go well in the ice and snow.” King said.


The iconic police vehicles of the time were no match for Mother Nature. King said they would use Fish and Wildlife’s four-wheel-drive vehicles when they could to help respond to emergencies.


“We haven’t forgotten and fear it might be right around the corner again,” he said.


King explained that KSP has since started getting all-wheel-drive Dodge Chargers and SUVs along with a new satellite radio system that allows troopers to use their radios in all kinds of adverse weather conditions and very remote areas of the county.


Not only was emergency services impacted by the ice storm, but businesses and big companies were dealing with the same problems most everyone else had. Transportation to and from was slowed and completely stopped due to the amount of trees down and abandoned vehicles on the roadway. Communication, as King explained, was vital for the infrastructure of these businesses to stay operational. King explained that briefings were held to make sure services kept running. Shelters were set up across the county and even the school system got involved in opening a shelter.


Southern Elementary was turned into a shelter for close to 300 people. School had been canceled due to the storm and it was unclear when the schools would be able to reopen their doors.


“Right now I can’t promise anything. I’m not even sure we will get schools opened by the first of next week,” Superintendent Soretta Ralph was quoted as saying in January 2009. “Regardless we’re just glad we can help the people of Ohio County in any way possible.”


Current Interim Superintendent Seth Southard said that they learned during the storm that the schools needed to be prepared for food storage. The USDA says that the freezers have to stay at 0 degrees or colder for the food to be able to be used for consumption. Each school did not have generators to run their freezers and Southard said it was hard to find generators during the ice storm. Some of the food was donated to be used at the shelters, Southard said.


Now each school has generators for their freezers with extra generators that are able to be moved to whichever school needs them.


The schools were reimbursed for their food used in the shelter, and Southard said they would be willing to set up shelters again if the need were to arise.


With Ohio County being one of the hardest hit areas in the state, there were many challenges that needed to be addressed to make sure the county continued to run. Roads were almost impossible to pass, but many farmers used their equipment to clear paths all around the county.

The county now has a Hummer with a snowplow to help in the snow.
As a result of the ice storm 10 years ago, more people have purchased generators in anticipation and preparation in case the county is hit by another storm such as the one in 2009. It was through the teamwork of residents and county officials that Ohio County survived the storm that killed 35 people in the state.

Nathan K. Fulkerson, reporter@octimesnews.com

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