Eamon Queeney, The Columbus Dispatch
CINCINNATI — National Guard troops headed out Sunday to check on people who might need help, and federal aid trucks rolled out carrying water as nearly 700,000 Ohio homes and businesses remained without power two days after severe storms swept through the state.
President Barack Obama late Saturday declared a federal emergency in Ohio. His action followed a request by Gov. John Kasich, who had declared a state emergency and called out the National Guard. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials worked Sunday with state officials, the American Red Cross and other relief workers to determine the biggest needs and where to take water, generators and other aid.
Severe storms that swept the state Friday evening knocked out power to 1 million customers. Kasich called the situation "extremely serious" because of a continued heat wave. Restoration could take days for some residents.
Cooling centers and shelters opened across the state. At The Plains-Athens Community Church of the Nazarene in southeast Ohio, families watched the animated movie "Tangled" Sunday afternoon and enjoyed donated ice cream and water. Jaime Hampton, the pastor's wife, said people could also play board games while getting out of the heat.
"We're just kind of keeping the movies going and playing games," she said. No one had asked to spend the night, but she said the church would accommodate anyone who wanted to stay.
FEMA said trucks carrying water were on the road Sunday to a half dozen distribution points in southern and eastern Ohio: Athens, Gallipolis, Hillsboro, Marietta, New Vienna and Woodsfield. More water trucks were on their way into Ohio, spokesman Leo Skinner said.
Federal emergency officials were working with state officials to evaluate generator needs for such places as hospitals, emergency centers and police stations, and on critical infrastructure needs such as water/sewage plants. Skinner stressed that the federal generator aid doesn't include homeowners and renters.
State spokesman Joe Andrews said some 200 Guard troops were launching door-to-door checks in the Columbus area and the Dayton area in southwest Ohio. They were initially focusing on retirement communities and other neighborhoods with large numbers of older people, young children and people with medical conditions to make sure they have access to water and medications and know that air-conditioned cooling centers are available.
Several cities and local governments opened cooling centers, as did churches, libraries and schools. The Red Cross opened cooling centers and 24-hour shelters across Ohio, from Lima in the northwest to Portsmouth along the Ohio River to Cambridge in eastern Ohio.
Andrews said Kasich met with the Guard troops before they began Sunday. Troops could be sent to other areas, if needed.
American Electric Power said Sunday there were still many downed power lines, poles, and circuit damage from winds it said hit 80 mph Friday. The widespread damage slowed restoration efforts. AEP said it still had some 475,000 customers without power Sunday, with the hardest hit areas in the central Ohio counties of Franklin, Delaware and Licking counties.
AEP says it was Ohio's worst storm since the state was battered in 2008 by remnants of Hurricane Ike. Out-of-state reinforcements have been limited by big needs in Washington D.C. and neighboring states that were also hit by storms. More than 3 million people in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and other areas were without power Sunday morning.
Ohio officials said Sunday they knew of only one confirmed storm death. A 70-year-old woman died Friday evening in Muskingum County when a barn collapsed after she had gone to check on animals during the storm.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign pitched in Sunday, accepting donations of water, flashlights and other items at its state headquarters. Spokesman Chris Maloney said a campaign bus would be diverted to delivering donations to hard-hit areas.
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