SPRINGDALE, Ark. (BP)–As 100 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief crews from a dozen states continue to mobilize, more than 160,000 people remain without electricity in Arkansas and Kentucky, the two states hardest hit by devastating ice storms in late January.
An estimated 600,000 Kentucky customers initially were without power. Louisville Gas and Electric now is reporting that 16,000 of its customers still have no power, while Kentucky Utilities says 54,000 of its customers remain in the dark.
In Arkansas, 350,000 customers’ electricity was knocked out by ice-laden trees and power lines, but that number is now down to 97,000 as of Tuesday (Feb. 3) evening, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
The national death toll is 55 from the historic ice storm that blew out of the central plains and covered several states in the Midwest and South with as much as two inches of ice. The Kentucky Division of Emergency Management reported that 24 Kentuckians have died as a result of the storm, while 17 died ice storm-related deaths in Arkansas.
In Arkansas, 16 Baptist disaster relief teams have arrived from the Kansas/Nebraska, Louisiana and Mississippi state conventions. Most of the volunteers will tackle 150 requests for much-needed chainsaw work for downed trees due to the ice.
Five shower units also have been provided by Kansas/Nebraska, Louisiana and the North American Mission Board for disaster volunteers in Arkansas. Work sites include Berryville, Mt. Home, Blytheville, Paragould, Siloam Springs and Springdale.
Three disaster teams from Louisiana and two from First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., were welcomed visitors at Al Slimmer’s home on Buena Vista Circle in Springdale. Slimmer, 67, and his 64-year-old wife were trapped in their home, in ill health and without power for six days.
“We’ve been in bad health and, without these guys, we would have been in trouble,” Slimmer said.
Howard Turner, pastor of Live Oak Baptist Church in Denham Springs, La., led the chainsaw team at Slimmer’s home, assisted by chainsaw teams from First Baptist Church in Bentonville, Ark., and First Baptist Springdale. Turner said he has served on a chainsaw team for 10 years. Although he’s worked Hurricanes Ivan, Katrina and Gustav, Turner said ice storm work is particularly challenging.
“There are two issues with ice,” Turner said. “First, you have to be really careful when there’s ice on a roof. Second, it’s really tough on your chains and equipment when you have to cut through ice. You go through twice as many chains. But we do it because we love the Lord.”
In Kentucky, more than 20 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief crews are now on the ground. In addition to its own state Baptist DR teams, Kentucky is receiving the lion’s share of its chainsaw support from the Tennessee Baptist Convention, which is providing seven recovery units for chainsaw work based in Princeton, Ky. The Mississippi convention has deployed one chainsaw unit in Mayfield, Ky., while NAMB is providing two shower units there. The Illinois Baptist State Association is running a shower unit in Bardwell, Ky.
In addition to outside help, the Kentucky convention itself also is operating feeding units in Cadiz, Princeton and Stanford and a recovery unit in Beaver Dam.
Karl Ragan, manager of NAMB’s disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., said the center is monitoring the situation and is ramping up for more activity in the days ahead by adding NAMB staff.
“We keep discovering more and more pockets of needs, especially in Kentucky and Arkansas,” Ragan said. Other disaster relief work is under way by Baptists in Oklahoma and Missouri.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board; Tammi Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN.