LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The ice is gone; the agony lingers, particularly in Kentucky and Arkansas which were hardest hit by the Jan. 26-27 ice storms.
Three more people were added to the death toll Feb. 11, bringing the overall count to 33.
Disaster relief crews, meanwhile, remain busy helping people clear downed trees and debris from their homes.
In Lincoln County, Ky., Trudy Dubuque “heard things start snapping and popping and falling on my house” as several inches of ice and snow tore limbs from the dozens of trees in her yard.
“I couldn’t see from inside,” the elderly woman recounted in a video on the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s website, “because the branches had come down over the windows to the point where I couldn’t see anything.”
Within a few days, however, Kentucky Baptist disaster relief teams were able to venture into Lincoln County, armed with chainsaws and food, ready to help Dubuque and others left stranded in the dark and extreme cold.
“That’s the amazing part … that there are people who care,” Dubuque said. “Without them, I really don’t know what I would have done.”
The chainsaw crews and feeding teams in Lincoln County are among at least 100 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units that have helped Kentuckians get back on their feet after one of the state’s most devastating natural disasters. As of Feb. 11, 50 units were still on site.
More than 700,000 homes lost power, leaving residents exposed to single-digit temperatures for days at a time. Power still has not been restored to thousands of residents statewide. In western Kentucky, the most conservative estimates are that many homes may not have power until March or later.
During early February, disaster relief units from Kentucky and 15 other state conventions — with as many as 1,000 volunteers — traveled to hard-hit areas in nearly 20 Baptist association areas. That’s not counting the number of volunteers who may have served but haven’t contacted the Kentucky convention or the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board to let them know they’re out there.
While power crews from dozens of states worked to repair thousands of damaged poles and towers, Baptist teams have been helping the residents, particularly in western Kentucky, clean up their homes and find a warm meal and a place to sleep.
Keith Stinson, a chainsaw crew coordinator from Kentucky’s Tates Creek Baptist Association, reported from Lincoln County, “We’re making progress [but] we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
“This is the first time in my memory … that I’ve ever seen anything that affected everybody,” said Chip Hutcheson, publisher of the Princeton Times-Leader in Caldwell County and a member of Southside Baptist Church in Princeton. “We’re in uncharted territory.”
Rick Reeder, director of missions for Caldwell-Lyon Baptist Association, said the Baptist response there has been swift and ongoing.
A number of churches in the association have either been involved in setting up shelters at their facilities, manning chainsaw crews and feeding teams, or coordinating supply giveaways at local department stores for families in need.
“It’s pretty serious down here,” Reeder noted. “There’s so many issues you don’t think about that are impacting people.
“It’s kind of like an emergency room: You stabilize the patient, you diagnose and then you treat them. I think we’re kind of in the treatment phase now.”
But the most important facet of the ordeal, Reeder said, is seeing how the love shown by Baptist volunteers can touch their neighbors.
Reeder told of a young woman he met at a Princeton Red Cross shelter. She and her husband had moved to town recently but had lost their jobs and were forced to send their 5-year-old son to live with family out of state.
Reeder quoted the woman as saying, “I am overwhelmed at how much people want to help me…. I have never had people want to help us without wanting something in return.”
“She was only used to people just out for themselves,” Reeder reflected. “So, when she started experiencing all this love, she couldn’t take it. It was just an amazing story to hear her tell that.”
Drew Nichter is news director of the Western Recorder, newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.