While the entire state was affected by severe weather during the week of January 25, western Kentucky was hit particularly hard by snow and ice storms. At its peak, approximately 750,000 people were without power and 29 deaths were being attributed to the storms. After an appeal from Governor Beshear, President Obama gave Kentucky a federal disaster designation, which entitles the state to government aide, including support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and reimbursement to the state for disaster-related efforts.
In the midst of the crisis, the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service rallied in an effort to aid those affected by the storms. A joint effort by UK and Kentucky State University, Extension is a comprehensive outreach and engagement program whose mission is to make a difference in the lives of Kentucky citizens through bringing research-based education to people at the community level.
Campus-based administrators and staff at University of Kentucky worked to send resource publications and other materials to the Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) agents on the western side of the state. Handouts included information on food safety, the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning, how to safely operate a generator, and how to handle the mental effects of a natural disaster. Laura Holt, an FCS agent in Muhlenberg County, had no access to the internet or phone, so she hand delivered this information to shelters, food pantries, the Salvation Army, insurance agencies, the Health Department, and Kentucky Utilities for distribution to the public. Water was unsafe to drink in her county, so she's also been fielding questions about food and water safety.
Many counties in western Kentucky have had no power for more than a week. Vicki Wynn, FCS agent in Marshall County, where an estimated 2,500 electric poles remained down over a week after the storm, helped FEMA distribute Meals Ready to Eat (MRE's) and water. She also distributed refrigerator and freezer thermometers to check for food safety. She has been tireless in exhausting every avenue to help others, whether it is posting resources on Facebook or working with local radio stations to notify the public of safety concerns. She even passed out lip balm to the power crews working outside. Psychological distress from the crisis is an issue as well. "The mental and emotional affects of this natural disaster are surfacing, and will continue to be a concern in the coming days," said Wynn.
Melissa Goodman has also been working hard since the disaster. An FCS agent for Hickman County, where many residents have not had power since the morning of January 26, Goodman has been coordinating efforts along with the local Ministerial Alliance to create a shelter at the local church. Through their combined efforts, it became a Red Cross shelter and FEMA food and water distribution point. "Volunteers have come together like I've never seen before," Goodman stated. "It's really been an unbelievable experience to watch everyone work hard to help their fellow citizens."
Many counties will be dealing with the effects of the storm for weeks and even years to come. More than a week after the storm, many counties still have over 50% of customers without power, major tree damage, and structural ruin to public buildings and homes. Fortunately for those affected, the Cooperative Extension Service and the FCS agents in their community will be there to help. Karen Ramage, Extension District Director for 17 western Kentucky counties, has witnessed the response of Cooperative Extension agents. "I think the efforts of all of our agents have shown their deep commitment to helping families and individuals in our communities. Whether good conditions or during a crisis, our agents strive to be an integral part of the community. They have worked to provide needed educational resources and support," shared Ramage.