Storm-battered residents in several states hunkered down in frigid homes and shelters Thursday, expecting to spend at least a week without power and waiting in long lines to buy generators, firewood, groceries and bottled water.
Utility companies in Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, Arkansas and West Virginia warned that the estimated 1.3million people left in the dark by an ice storm wouldn't have power back before Saturday at the earliest, and at worst, as late as mid-February.
Already, the situation was becoming dire for some communities in Kentucky, where the power outages crippled pumping stations and cut off access to water. Tracie and Jeff Augustinovich drove 15 miles from their home in the western Kentucky town of Rock Castle to buy groceries. Their home had very little running water, and though they stocked up before the storm, they weren't sure their supplies will last.
“We're buying up anything that we can eat cold,” Tracie Augustinovich said.
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For heat, the couple were using a kerosene heater loaned to them by a friend — at least until the fuel runs out. Utility crews found themselves up against roads blocked by ice-caked power lines, downed trees and other debris. Help from around the country was arriving in convoys to assist the states with the worst outages. But with so many homes and businesses in the dark — more than 600,000 across Kentucky alone — the effort is still expected to take days, if not weeks.
At a mall turned into a staging area in Barboursville, W.Va., crews in hard hats met alongside piles of poles, generators, wire and other supplies to find out where to go first.
“We're attacking it head on,” said Appalachian Power spokesman Phil Moye. “As long as the ice is still on the trees, the storm is still here.”
Hundreds of shelters opened their doors, and deputies in some communities went door to door to let people know where they were. Since phone service and Internet connections are spotty in many places, there wasn't another way.
Since the storm began Monday, the weather has been blamed for at least 25 deaths. Emergency officials feared that toll could rise if people stay in their homes without power for too long, because improper use of generators can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
Some decided to tough it out anyway. As icicles began to melt from the electrical wires and crashed to the ground Thursday, Jimmy Eason of Velvet Ridge, Ark., carefully walked across his yard to his Ford F-150, which was warmer than his one-story white house.
“I'm sleeping in a car, which is just fine,” Eason, 74, said. “There's nothing wrong with a car. Every couple of hours I turn it on, I let it run for 10 minutes and that keeps it pretty warm.”