Family seeks shelter from the storm

Friday, February 6, 2009
At the Spivey house Wednesday night are, from left, Haley and Ansley Riley, Mike McKinney at rear, Laiken Spivey, Tracy McKinney at rear, Lonnie Hill seated, Stephanie Ray, baby Audrey Jo Ray, Madison Spivey, MacKenzie Spivey and at right rear, Billy Spivey.

As many as 17 people, two dogs and several hamsters have been living in a 1,500-square-foot home here on Phillips Avenue where the normal population tripled last weekend because of the ice storm in Kentucky.

To some extent, they count themselves as lucky because, as Tracy McKinney asks herself in her son-in-law's home, "If it wasn't for this, where would I be tonight?"

How well she knows.

"I'm a home health nurse," McKinney explains. "I can't get to my patients and my boss tells me we had patients who were well (before the ice storm.) Some are on ventilators and some have died."

It was close for her dad.

Son-in-law Billy Spivey, a Marshall County commissioner who works at Walker Die Casting, drove to the Eddyville, Ky., home of his wife's grandfather, Lonnie Hill. The 70-year-old paraplegic uses a wheelchair as a result of an accidental gunshot wound four decades ago. Spivey drove Hill from Kentucky to Tennessee.

"Billy took him directly to Maury Regional Medical Center," McKinney said. "My dad's doctor told him he wouldn't have lasted two days... He got sick really quick and got pneumonia."

She and her family feel torn about the prospect of not getting electric power restored to their homes for maybe two months, partly because of where repairs are required first.

"Everything that Kentucky Utilities built over 30 years was demolished in one night," she said.

Among the very first institutions to see repair crews was the Kentucky State Penitentiary where 600 linemen went to restore power for 2,000 inmates, she said.

"Part of me understands that because so many of the people work there and we're told they're the worst of the worst (criminals) so they have to provide safety for the staff, but at the same time, why are they taking care of them before my one-year-old granddaughter?"

Audrey Jo Ray, age 1, daughter of Stephanie and Brock Ray of Eddyville, had her first birthday a couple of days before the storm.

Her first year was hard.

Her congenital heart malady is atria ventricular canal defect -- a hole on top of her heart and one on the bottom and two valves were formed together. She also suffers pulmonary hypertension which is treated with Viagra.

"She has very complex problems," McKinney said. "She's had open heart surgery and will have to have more."

The toddler squeals with delight as she steps from one of the five girls to another in Spivey's living room where it's not much different from an on-going slumber party, although for very different reasons.

"It sounds like it's crazy, but we do what we have to do," McKinney said.

Her sister, Kelly, and her three boys, Mason, Michael and Matthew left at noon Wednesday after two and a half days at the Spivey house. They planned to return today after checking on the homes in Eddyville.

"We continue to be at risk for tree limbs that may fall on our homes," McKinney said.

Her daughter, Stephanie Ray, mother of baby Audrey Jo, said her husband, Brock, returned to Kentucky.

"He had to go to go to the house and meet the power company to remove electrical wires," Ray said. "It took them three days to get there.

There's been a 5 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and reports of looting since the storm on Jan 26.

"People are stealing generators from houses with people there," Ray said.

A grocery store announced it was being closed by the health department, so nearby residents who'd stayed could come in and take the food that would be wasted anyway, the women said.

Among the few cell phone companies still working was one so busy calls were impossible, but text messages got through, they said. Landlines were down.

"I've not heard from anyone in Eddyville or Princeton who's not afraid they'll lose their home and everything because they can't work and can't make payments," Ray said.

"People are pooling resources and are staying in one house in our neighborhood," she said, turning to her emergency community.

"We love Lewisburg," Ray said.

McKinney said, "We come up for the Goat Festival.

"But Billy has meetings," she said, acknowledging her son-in-law's position on the Marshall County Commission, "and things to do...

"If it was anybody else," the mother-in-law said, "I'd hate to intrude... I don't know what we'd have done if we didn't have family."

The Spivey home on Phillips Street is quiet compared to the night of the ice storm. Tree limbs became so heavy they'd crack as loud as a gunshot at night, frightening an aunt to the point of crying all night out of fear.

Eddyville is a town of about 3,000 residents. The people there have been told power might be restores in four to six weeks. There are 600 power poles down between the town and Louisville.

Spivey's relatives can't return because of the 70-year-old patriarch's condition.

Schools remain closed. The National Guard is distributing food boxes, one per family per day.

"We heard for two to three days that the storm was coming... We prepared by getting a kerosene heater, candles and cans of food, but it was like no other storm we've had," McKinney said, listing her food stock as six to eight cans, peanut butter and crackers and breakfast bars.

The two gallons of kerosene for the heater didn't last long.

"We might have survived for two days had we stayed at home," McKinney said.

"You could be convinced that you're a pretty smart person and believe you're prepared for a massive ice storm..."

They left Eddyville on Friday, Jan. 30. No gas station was open until they got to Clarksville.

Lonnie Hill couldn't sit in the car, so Spivey drove in a vehicle so Hill could lay down and then took him straight to the hospital in Columbia.

At night now, the relatives "just lay where we find a spot," McKinney said. "Somebody sleeps in the recliner every night."

There's an inflatable mattress. The kids make a pallet and sleep there.

"Lewisburg hasn't had this," she said. "If it does, I'll open my doors."

They've felt welcome by average residents here. There's a "little lady Billy and Kim call Granny" even though they're not related, McKinney said. She's brought supplies.

So have others. Calls have been received saying they're on prayer lists. Cooked meals have been delivered. Acquaintances have stopped them in a store saying they're thinking of ways to help.

"It's a small town. Word gets around," she said.

The home they're in includes Spivey, his wife and five of their six daughters: MacKenzie, Laiken, Madison, Ansley and Haley. The oldest sister, Laiken, is at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

Lonnie Hill's wife, Linda, is staying with their son, Vic Hill, in Eddyville.

McKinny's husband, Mike, is with her at Spivey's as are their daughter, Stephanie and her husband, Brock, with their baby, Adrey Jo.

McKinny's sister, Kelly and her boys are coming back today.

McKinny brought her dog, Penny. The Spivey's dog, Penny, has been there with the Spivey girls' hamsters.

"It's been awesome," McKinny said of the welcome Lewisburg has shown.