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Chainsaw teams rally amid storm damage

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–An incident command team from the North American Mission Board has set up operations at the Kentucky Baptist Convention building in Louisville as chainsaw teams begin to help the state recover from a major ice storm that left 700,000 homes and businesses without power.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear activated all 4,600 National Guard troops and asked for federal aid in response to what he called the worst natural disaster in the state’s history. Repairs to Kentucky’s electrical grid and other cleanup costs are expected to exceed $45 million.

At least 16 storm-related deaths had been confirmed in Kentucky Feb. 2, and dozens more were suspected in Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, Virginia, Oklahoma, Indiana, West Virginia and Ohio after the storm system moved through a major portion of the country early last week.

Temperatures in Kentucky were in the 40s Sunday, giving a reprieve for utility workers and other recovery workers. Power was restored Feb. 1 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, where classes were scheduled to resume Feb. 3.

“We are beginning to see some light and rays of hope as some conditions improve,” Beshear said in a statement. “But I am realistic that we still have a long way to go and much work to do.”

Of Kentucky’s 120 counties, 92 had declared emergencies, and more than 400,000 people remained without power over the weekend. National Guard troops were going door to door in some parts of the state, tagging with green tape those homes where people had sufficient supplies and tagging with red tape those in need of assistance.

The mayor of Mayfield, in western Kentucky, said it could take as long as two months for power to be restored to the entire county. And in Paducah, a city of about 25,000, a nighttime curfew was imposed Saturday.

Chainsaw teams from the Tennessee Baptist Convention have been assigned to Princeton, Cunningham, Madisonville, Siloam and Hancock, Ky., the North American Mission Board reported, and a shower unit from Tennessee was activated at a shelter in Hancock.

The Alabama Baptist State Convention, Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, Baptist Convention of North Carolina and the Georgia Baptist Convention all were sending chainsaw teams to assist with cleanup efforts in Kentucky.

Arkansas, the second hardest-hit state, requested shower units and chainsaw teams from other states as 350,000 customers were without power and 48 counties were declared federal disaster areas. Five feeding units were activated for Harrison, Mountain Home, Corning, Jonesboro, Paragould and Fayetteville, Ark. By Feb. 2, 300-plus volunteers had served more than 17,000 meals, and several churches had opened as shelters.

About 15 chainsaw teams were deployed in Arkansas, including one from the Kansas/Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists working in Berryville and some from the Louisiana Baptist Convention based at First Baptist Church in Springdale. Louisiana also sent shower trailers to First Baptist Church in Paragould and East Side Baptist Church in Mountain Home, NAMB reported.

Shower units also were setting up at the community center in Corning and at First Baptist Paragould. A Kansas/Nebraska shower unit was en route to Freeman Heights Baptist Church in Berryville.

Chainsaw teams in Missouri and Oklahoma were helping residents recover within their states, and several Tennessee teams were working in Missouri. In Illinois, 15 chainsaw teams from the Illinois Baptist State Association have been activated, and in Ohio, a feeding unit from the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio was operating in the southern part of the state, the North American Mission Board said.

During the Feb. 1 morning worship service at First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ark., the church’s pastor invited the congregation to submit slips of paper indicating cleanup needs.

Church members pitched in to help remove a large tree limb from the roof of Frances Reed’s home, and they removed another large limb wedged over her neighbor’s fence while they were at it. Reed had managed to stay in her home during the five days without power, continuing to cook on her stove, which burned natural gas.

On Saturday, a utility crew scaled several of the 100-year old oaks surrounding her home, trimming limbs that hung over power lines so power could be restored. Reed’s father had been part of the crew that hung the first electric power lines in Fayetteville nearly 100 years ago, and her husband worked briefly as a lineman for the utility company about 60 years ago.

Reed wasn’t at home when the help came, however. She was in Jackson, Tenn., helping her granddaughter return for classes at Union University when she learned the church members had cleared the limbs for her.

“I didn’t know there’d be a miracle on Sunday,” she said. “I’m just so thankful this has been taken care of.”

And in Kentucky, the Associated Press reported that volunteers from New Haven Baptist Church in Albany, La., were passing out free kerosene, batteries, bottled water and other items to local residents from a staging area at New Horizons Baptist Church in Glendale. AP said the Louisiana residents were returning a favor from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when the Kentucky church volunteered to help them.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach with reporting by Mickey Noah of the North American Mission Board and Stella Prather of the Arkansas Baptist News.

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