ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
It's been nearly a week since a severe winter storm slammed the middle of the country. Kentucky was especially hard hit. Nearly 300,000 people remain without power, and some don't have water. Twenty-four people have died.
Kentucky's governor calls it the worst natural disaster his state has ever seen. Chad Lampe, of member station WKMS, reports from in and around Murray, Kentucky.
CHAD LAMPE: When a natural disaster hits, you sometimes hear one of the responders say it looks like a bomb went off. But Carlisle County Emergency Manager Melissa Rowland says it's true, in this case.
Ms. MELISSA ROWLAND (Emergency Manager, Carlisle County, Kentucky): It looks like a war zone. That's the only way to describe it. I don't think we've got a solid tree left standing in this county.
(Soundbite of chainsaw)
LAMPE: Across Western Kentucky, chainsaws are in use nonstop to clear debris. Sheets of heavy ice snapped tree branches, knocking down power lines. Then the trees collapsed under the heavy weight, turning streets into an undriveable, mangled mess.
Brock Oglesby is emergency manager of Hopkins County. He says those mountains of debris prevent responders from helping.
Mr. BROCK OGLESBY (Emergency Manager, Hopkins County, Kentucky): Half of our roadways in Hopkins County and the county - the rural segment - are still blocked, completely blocked. There's just tree after tree after tree. And the faster we get our roadways open, the faster the utility trucks can come down and get the power coming up.
LAMPE: Oglesby expects electricity won't be fully restored for at least a month, especially in rural areas. He says the roads need to be cleared, then the fallen trees moved and, finally, new power poles installed because so many snapped like toothpicks.
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear spent the weekend traveling to many counties crushed by the winter weather. He mobilized every Kentucky National Guardsman to aid in recovery efforts.
Governor STEVE BESHEAR (Democrat, Kentucky): We're in for a long haul here. And we're going to need the manpower that's exhibited by these 4,600 Guard men and women, in addition to everybody that's out there, both from local officials to law enforcement.
(Soundbite of meeting)
LAMPE: At the Weekes Community Center this morning in Murray, about 30 residents have taken up shelter. Cots are set up, blankets are littered across the room, and people are watching television for storm updates.
Elaine Myers(ph) camped out here over the weekend. She evacuated the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina, and thought she would be safe from other major disasters.
Ms. ELAINE MYERS: But I tell you, I've never seen anything like this. I've never seen anything - I was home freezing for two days and a half before the man that brings me to church came knocking on my door and told me that he had found a place for me to go. I was never so happy in my life, because I don't know a whole lot of people.
LAMPE: National Guardsmen, highway workers and utility linesmen have knocked on almost every door in Western Kentucky to ensure people have the supplies they need. In recent days, the weather has helped. Warmer temperatures allowed many volunteers - some with high spirits - to venture outside. Jenny Roddinghouse(ph) was sweeping up sawdust and tree branches off her front porch.
Ms. JENNY RODDINGHOUSE: That's a true hero over there.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. RODDINGHOUSE: Chainsaw man. That's my husband, Tom. He came from Texas. He was in Texas during the storm, and he brought a generator back. So he saved the neighborhood. But yeah, we've had - actually, it's been an adventure.
LAMPE: The adventure continues tonight. Freezing weather returns, with parts of Kentucky expected to see lows around 20 degrees. Emergency officials are worried the disaster's about to get worse, as a second wave of people will flood emergency shelters as their supplies dwindle.
For NPR News, I'm Chad Lampe in Murray, Kentucky.