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There's no place like home

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County residents sought shelter wherever it could be found

By Stevie L. Daugherty

Stacking cases of bottled water into the back of a pickup truck Friday afternoon at Marion County High School, Geraldine Livers of Raywick summed up the past week in one simple, yet profound, sentence.

"Mother Nature knocked us to our knees this time," she said.

Livers was getting bottled water for 16 families living on Homestead Valley Road who were without power and water. Like most families, Livers and her neighbors had been without power practically all week after an ice storm wreaked havoc on Marion County and the rest of the state on Tuesday, Jan. 27.

"Terrible ... a nightmare," is how Steve Perkins of Bradfordsville described the past week as he loaded water into his vehicle Friday. Thankfully, he had a wood stove in his house, but many Marion Countians did not and had to find other means to stay warm. That meant staying with friends or family who had power or other heating sources, finding refuge in a local shelter or staying in a hotel.

The City of Lebanon opened Centre Square as a shelter early on in the week and that's where Jennifer Clark, her husband Michael Clark Jr. and their three children, Cody, 6, Abby, 3 and Austin, 1, began staying on Wednesday. They live on St. Rose Road, which was heavily damaged during the ice storm.

According to Jennifer, they have tried to keep things as normal as possible for their children, but the experience has been almost too much to handle, especially when they have had to sit and watch as other people left the shelter to go back to their homes restored with power.

"We've seen everybody come and go," Jennifer said. "The whole experience has just been hard. It's been emotional, frustrating... miserable."

"It is what it is," her husband replied.

Their son, Cody, celebrated his sixth birthday on Friday. It wasn't exactly how they pictured celebrating his birthday, but he still got to have his cake and presents, only it was in the dark at his grandparents' house. Jennifer's parents and her husband's parents both lost power during the ice storm, and they didn't have anywhere else to go, which is why they ended up at Centre Square.

Wednesday night, a visibly pregnant Carmen Leiva sought refuge from the storm at Centre Square. She said she had no water or electricity. Someone nearby added "no dinero, no comida", which translates as "no money, no food," prompting laughter from Leiva and her friends.

Opal Hawbaker, a 96-year-old Minnesota native, was also in the shelter that night.Opal Hawbaker said this was the worst storm she'd ever seen.

"I've seen a lot blizzards," she said. "I'll take a blizzard over an ice storm."

Her daughter, Juanita Hawbaker, was also in the shelter that night. Juanita Hawbaker said they'd moved to Lebanon about two and a half years ago. Both women were in good spirits that night.

"These are the kinds of stories you tell your grandchildren," Juanita Hawbaker said.

Libby Peterson of West Chandler Street sought shelter at Centre Square Saturday evening after losing her home. According to Peterson, a candle caught a bookcase on fire and set her house ablaze.

Fortunately, Peterson made it out unscathed, but with only the clothes on her back and no shoes on her feet.

She had lived there almost 35 years. "I've lost everything," she said.

As of Tuesday morning, more than a dozen people were still at Centre Square.

Michelle Knopp of Calvary and her family fortunately did not lose their home during this disaster, but they did lose power like almost everyone else in Marion County. They checked into The Hampton Inn in Lebanon on Tuesday. She and her husband, Jimmy Knopp, step-daughter, Karol Mattingly, 19, and two sons, Christopher Gillum, 17, and Timmy Gillum, 11, along with their dog, Brutis, stayed there until their power came on late in the week. During their stay, Knopp and her family became more than just guests at The Hampton Inn. They became honorary members of the staff. When the hotel's electricity was restored late Wednesday night after being out for almost 24 hours, Knopp and her family helped the hotel's staff clean rooms and do laundry.

"When the electricity came back on people just flooded in," Knopp said. "The staff got bombarded and we just kicked in. We did what had to be done."

Knopp and her family cleaned 12 rooms in an hour and a half. They helped wash bed sheets and towels too. And on Thursday, Knopp and her family cooked 12 quarts of chili in their hotel room for the guests at The Hampton Inn.

"It's been an adventure," Knopp said. "The situation is devastating but everyone here has just pulled together and made it through."

However, there was a member of Knopp's family that wasn't so cooperative and team-oriented.

Brutis, their puggle (a cross between a pug and a beagle), didn't particularly enjoy his extended hotel stay.

"He just paces the floor," Knopp said.

And Knopp's 11-year-old son, Timmy, was terrified that the ice storm was the beginning of the end.

"He was convinced that this was a scene straight out of the movie 'The Day After Tomorrow.' He was convinced it was the end of the world," Knopp said. "He asked me, 'What if when the power comes back on we are the only people left?'"

That fear subsided when the power came back on and Timmy was surrounded by guests at The Hampton Inn, which was jam-packed Thursday with all 58 rooms filled.

According to hotel manager Becky Edlin, the hotel staff worked as hard and as fast as they could to get as many people out of the cold as possible.

"People just want hot water," Edlin said Thursday evening.

One guest at The Hampton Inn who was desperate for a hot shower was Donnie Miles, owner of Loretto Foodland, who had been working all day in his powerless grocery store trying to help the people of Loretto get the essentials they needed.

Loretto Foodland lost power at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, but that didn't stop Miles from opening his store. When customers would come in he would hand them a flashlight and let them shop. He, his son Scotty, and employee Brandon Newton, were using hand-held calculators, pencils and paper to check people out. They ran from aisle to aisle, yelling out prices of merchandise, a much different routine than what they are used to when the power is working.

Outside the store, pounds and pounds of meat and gallons of milk sat in grocery carts. Miles was trying to keep the meat and milk good as long as he could, but nobody was buying meat because no one could cook it.

The most popular items, however, were items such as instant coffee, cereal, peanut butter, tuna fish and Vienna sausages. Those items flew off the shelves, as well as paper plates, napkins, potato chips and beer.

"You would think it was the Fourth of July holiday," Miles said, laughing.

Batteries were also highly sought after but Miles didn't have any. He had sold out, along with practically every other retail and grocery establishment in the county.

Yet, even with the power out, business was good.

"We've been busier than hell," Miles said. "It's costing me to be open, but I'm open because I think the community needs us."

Thankfully, Miles is covered by insurance, so he'll be fine. However, he expects to lose at least $100,000 in merchandise.

He is going to take the advice of one of his customers, however.

"All you can do is smile and just go on..."

Editor's note: News Editor Stephen Lega contributed to this story.