• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

‘Y’all got hammered’, High winds cause worst power problems since ‘03

Nearly five days after high winds roared through Woodford County last Friday, fewer than five Kentucky Utilities (KU) customers, many of them households with multiple members, were still without electricity at press time.

That number was down from 6,702 Monday morning and 10,719 Sunday morning, out of a total of 13,657 KU customers. At least 12,700 customers lost power after the mid-afternoon storm Friday, according to KU spokesperson Daniel Lowry.

“I know it’s been frustrating for people who live there, but the mutual assistance crews who’ve joined us have been working around the clock, through the wind and the rain,” Lowry said.

The three storms Friday afternoon and evening affected 170,000 customers across the state, with a peak of about 100,000 outages, KU’s Brian Claypool said. Woodford County was hit hardest, he said, echoing others who said that it was the worst such event since the ice storm of 2003.

“Y’all just got hammered. I mean, Woodford County got hammered,” said Claypool.

Within three hours, local emergency disaster declarations were issued by Woodford Judge-Executive John Coyle, Versailles Mayor Brian

Traugott and Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift. The declarations temporarily suspended normal procurement and policy rules, and directed all city and county resources to work together to save lives and protect property. The declarations lasted through Sunday, and special called meetings to deal with debris clean-up and other matters are likely in the next days.

Claypool was one of about two dozen government and public safety leaders who met at the fire station at Woodford County Park Monday morning for the third consecutive day. He said 180 technicians, many from other states, were in the county trying to safely restore power.

Lowry agreed that Woodford, with recorded wind gusts of up to 70 mph, was the hardest-hit county in the state, comparing it to Lexington, where less than 40 percent of 151,712 KU customers lost power.

Sunday, Woodford Emergency Management Director Drew Chandler told the Sun that the wreckage was likely caused by straight-line high winds, not a tornado. One example was Midway Road, where “everything was pushed to the east,” he said. “There’s no evidence of rotation or anything that would lead (us) to ask the National Weather Service to see if it was a tornado.”

Much of the immediate danger Friday afternoon and evening was to those stuck inside cars with power lines atop or around them.

State Rep. James Kay said his wife, Cara, was driving to Midway to pick up their sons, 1-year-old Kyan and 2-and-a-half-year-old Kieran, when a tree in front of her and others behind her brought down power lines.

“She was by Lane’s End and trapped for over two hours,” Kay said. Power lines were down up and down Midway Road, he added.

Kay said he was very grateful that Cara did not have their children with her.

“While the storm was actually happening, I said (to Cara), ‘Just stay in place. Make sure you’re not under any power lines.’ And she did … It was scary. It was real scary,” said Kay, who was coming back to Woodford County on the Blue Grass Parkway at the Springfield exit when the storm hit.

“Cars had just stopped … And there were golf ball-size hail just pelting everywhere,” he said of his experience.

Another potential danger involved the same stuff that came in buckets Friday: water. At noon Saturday, with power still out at the

Versailles water treatment plant, Mayor Brian Traugott issued a “declaration of a water shortage.” City water customers were asked not to wash clothes, use dishwashers, fill pools, or use outside faucets. Traugott called it a precautionary measure, and noted that the city still had stored water and was purchasing more from Kentucky American Water.

Power was restored to the treatment plant around 8 p.m. Saturday, and the advisory was lifted the following morning.

The city’s wastewater treatment plant was without power until 3 p.m. Saturday, but no sewer problems were reported, according to Public Works Director Bart Miller.

There were unexpected bits of good fortune: Despite downed power lines throughout much of the county, there were just three non-life threatening injuries reported and no fatalities. Also, relatively cool weather over the weekend and into Monday made life less difficult for those without power, though some elderly and others dependent on electrical devices were taken to Bluegrass Community Hospital.

Across the county, with the help of social media, people began to pitch in, cutting down damaged trees, clearing limbs and cleaning roads.

“What areas need the most help right now with clearing trees etc? My husband and his friends are heading out with their chainsaws,” a woman posted on the Voices of Versailles Facebook page.

Kroger offered free coffee over the weekend, and local churches, along with the Red Cross and the Food Pantry of Woodford County, handed out, and in some cases delivered, free food.

“The thing that sticks out in my mind was to hear my staff and some of the other public safety personnel talk about how our community came together, and the neighbors with chainsaws and farmers getting roads open for ambulances and the fire department,” Chandler said.

“It was a tremendous effort and certainly not something that public safety personnel could have done in that amount of time by themselves.”

Among the technicians from other parts of Kentucky and other states helping restore power were two young men from Bardstown, employees of Team Fishel in Louisville.

Early Monday morning, outside the Shell station on Yellow Jacket Drive that had regained power late the previous evening, Mason McMahan said he’d arrived Saturday morning and worked until 1 or 2 a.m. the next two nights.

He said he helped replace eight broken utility poles and fiber optic internet and phone lines.

Co-worker Miles Cecil said he arrived Monday morning for the rewarding, but potentially dangerous work.

“You’re working with a couple of thousand volts of electricity running through power lines, so, touch that, it’s not going to be good,” Cecil said.

“You don’t have to touch it. Four feet away you can get shocked,” McMahan said.

McMahan said his crew was greeted with water bottles and snacks after working into the early morning hours.

“It’s awesome. It’s great to be able to help everyone out. … It’s nice to hear that people are thankful for us and stuff,” Cecil said. Lowry said Monday that across the state, 400 KU workers and 550 others, including technicians from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Tennessee, were working 16-hour shifts.

Chandler said it was unlikely that Kentucky would meet the $6.3 million threshold for federal aid for “public assistance,” which is defined as governmental entities. However, local leaders are reaching out to volunteer organizations to help clean debris off private property, which government workers are not allowed to do, and business owners could be eligible for loans from the Small Business Administration.

The Better Business Bureau of Central and Eastern Kentucky issued a warning about people who take advantage of storm victims.

“Disastrous events like the winds and heavy rains that hit the area can act as a magnet for out-of-town contractors to come offering their services. Some of those businesses may be legitimate and reputable, but con artists can be in the mix,” said Heather Clary, BBB Director of Communications.

Clary said people get help at www.bbb.org or by calling (859) 259-1008 or 1-800-866-6668.

There will be plenty of work for clean-up crews, both volunteer and paid. Monday morning, asked if he had an estimate of how many trees were downed by the storm, Chandler said, “It would probably be easier to count the ones that are still up.”

Bob Vlach contributed to this article.

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