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Amid ice storm, western Kentucky tornado survivors facing ongoing heating needs

Terra Utley

Survivors of December’s tornado outbreak in western Kentucky are still facing heating needs as below-freezing temperatures are expected to linger following an ice storm bearing down across the state.

Among the grassroots efforts to meet those needs is Micah Seavers, who owns Southern Red’s BBQ and Catering in southern Graves County. Since late December, he said he has made thousands of deliveries of kerosene and propane fuel to those who need it in northwest Tennessee and multiple western Kentucky counties.

He took up the task to make sure people had heating fuel and food – working most days and finishing some delivery days around 1 a.m. – because he saw needs going unfilled. He estimated he made deliveries to 86 homes Wednesday, with total deliveries reaching up to about 2,500 since he started.

“If people are hungry and people are cold, we've failed them somewhere. And so we've got to make sure that the basic necessities are taken care of,” Seavers said.

Seavers said some people he’s delivering to do have power at home but don’t have the money to pay increased utility costs from running electric heaters constantly. He said helping children and the elderly is a priority for him with his deliveries.

“Anybody that’s been to Mayfield, they saw what area of town it hit. It hit the most impoverished area of town,” Seavers said. “These people don't have $180 to go purchase a heater, and then to pay for the fuel for it every day as well and keep up with their normal bills – they just don't.”

He said other volunteers and community members help him purchase fuel, which he said is averaging more than $4,000 in expenses a week. Yet one of the biggest needs currently is propane tanks to hold fuel. The Mayfield Lions Club, which purchased and gave heaters to Seavers to deliver, is still trying to find propane tanks throughout the region.

“Those things are hard to find and expensive,” said Jeff Gream with the Lions Club. “I mean, the whole area is out of them right now. We're just not able to get any.”

Gream said with funding from Lions Club International, the organization purchased more than 100 heaters, plus smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. The organization has also distributed generators, sending volunteers with the generators to make sure they’re set up properly.

Graves County Office of Emergency Management director Tracy Warner said the efforts of Seavers have been the primary effort she’s aware of toward getting tornado survivors proper heating in recent weeks. She said the county has the option of using a church community center in Wingo as a warming shelter if the need arises, especially if power outages mount from the ice storm.

For 32-year-old Terra Utley, the propane deliveries from Seavers have been a “godsend.”

Her Mayfield home on Walnut Street is uninhabitable, and the propane tanks delivered by Seavers have heated the borrowed camper she and her husband are living in on her brother-in-law’s property in Graves County. Her children are staying with a nearby relative as she waits to hear back from federal officials if she’ll receive funding to rebuild.

“I thank God that my family’s safe, but I couldn't imagine dealing with what other people are having to deal with that don't have the help that we have,” Utley said.

The National Weather Service in Paducah doesn’t expect temperatures in Mayfield and Graves County to rise above freezing until Sunday.

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