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Many lend helping hands during power outage

Youth from the Crawford County High School Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Hillview Christian Church near Marengo break up ice donated by Tyson Foods in Corydon at the Crawford County 4-H Community Park south of Marengo so it can be bagged and given away to those without electricity. (Photo by Chris Adams)
September 24, 2008
After a week of candles, chainsaws, portable generators, bottled water — and a shortage of electricity, clean clothes, hot showers and refrigerated foods — Crawford, Floyd and Harrison counties are slowly getting back to normal.

When the remnants of Hurricane Ike tore through the area on Sunday, Sept. 14, tens of thousands of people in the three counties lost electricity and many lost their roofs and access to fresh water. The winds, measured at up to 80 mph in some areas, destroyed power lines and brought down trees, many of which landed on homes, fences, power lines and automobiles.

Most businesses in Crawford County were closed due to the lack of electricity. Schools all over the county were also closed. However, as the initial shock of the windstorm wore off, many in the county put their own problems aside and began helping others.

Chris Hammond, who owns the 64 Express Mart in English, hooked up a generator to one of his gas pumps and made gasoline available to anyone who needed it. He covered the expense of running the generator out of his own pocket and kept his darkened store open in case someone needed something.

Robin Moon, at English Hardware, also opened on Monday and operated almost all week without electricity, knowing that people would need supplies to get by until power was restored. Marcy's Restaurant, also in English, knew it was going to lose a substantial amount of food before electricity needed to run their coolers was restored and donated the food to the Crawford County Sheriff's Department to be used to feed officers and others who were working long hours due to the storm. The courthouse and jail was operating on a generator and Sheriff Tim Wilkerson had extra officers on standby in case they were needed.

Dave Cox, who owns a concession trailer, set it up between the English Fire Station and Crawford County Judicial Complex on Monday and began cooking fish dinners. He served more than 600 people the first day, 1,000 the second day, and lost count on how many were served the third day. And every meal was free. He had a jar where people could make donations to help with expenses, but a donation wasn't required to get a hot meal. Anyone who was hungry was welcome. No one was turned away.

In his book, "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater," author Kurt Vonnegut wrote that "if a community was a pyramid, the volunteer fire department would be at the top." That is obvious whenever a disaster strikes. Last week, Crawford County volunteer firefighters could be seen clearing brush, marking downed power lines, directing traffic, hauling ice, passing out food and a whole list of other duties that they assume, and perform on their own — often without even a "thank you."

The Crawford County Highway Department went to work as soon as the winds died, clearing roadways of fallen trees and debris. By Tuesday, most of the county's roads were passable and the downed power lines were marked or moved out of the roads.

More than 50 students and adults from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at Crawford County High School and Hillview Christian Church helped bag two truck loads of ice that was sent to the county by Tyson Foods in Corydon. Gallon jugs of fresh water were delivered by the Indiana Department of Transportation, and both ice and water were distributed at the Crawford County 4-H Community Park by volunteers, including the staff of the county Extension Office. The Red Cross and the Salvation Army were also on hand to supply food to those who needed it.

Several Emergency Management Agency officials from other counties came to assist Crawford County EMA Director Kent Barrow, and on Wednesday, Joseph Wainscott, Indiana Department of Homeland Security director, flew in by helicopter to determine how things were going in the county.

"As we were flying in here, we could see how bad it was," Wainscott said. "We could see large areas of corn blown down in the fields and there were thousands of trees down. There were paths through a lot of the woods, where trees were blown over.

"But this area was somewhat fortunate, it got the wind but didn't get the water like some of the northern counties had. There doesn't seem to be a large amount of structural damage. So, emergency workers are having to deal mainly with food and water issues. They are not having to worry much about shelter — the homes here are still standing," Wainscott continued.

"But this is widespread. Jennings and Clark counties were hit hard, as were Cincinnati and Louisville. Something like this really strains reserves. Plus, a lot of trucks, equipment and manpower were already deployed to Texas to help with hurricane damage there."

Wainscott went on to say that every family should put together an emergency kit with enough supplies for at least three days.

"There are times when people can only count on themselves," he continued. "You need to be able to survive until responders can get to you. You should always have flashlights with extra batteries on hand, bottled water, canned or dried food and, if needed, extra medication.

"Local responders will always pull together and help, but it sometimes takes a while to get to everyone who needs assistance. Hoosiers will always pitch in and help each other, whether it's farmers with tractors clearing the roads or just individuals taking the initiative to help who they can. That's what gets things done. And we all learn from these situations."

By Sunday, a week after the winds hit, most of the county had electricity. A few homes had been unhooked from the main lines due to damage of the headers leading into the houses, which will be the responsibility of the homeowners to repair. Schools reopened on Monday, as did most of the businesses.

"We had some moderate damage to structures in the county," said Mike Benham, of Crawford County Security Company, "but not much in the way of major damage. Most of it was roof damage, gutters, loss of food in freezers, and damage to some mobile homes. It certainly could have been worse."

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