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Fri January 29, 2010
How a local gas station owner became an ice storm hero
By Jacque Day
Murray, Ky. – On a normal day, Gary's Market on South Fourth Street in Murray looks like Any Gas Station USA. But one year ago, with the electrical grid down and thousands of people without access to fuel and heat, Gary Russell's little store became a lifesaver. On the anniversary of the ice storm Jacque Day paid a visit to Russell, and brings us this story of the power of ordinary people working together.
It's business as usual at Gary's Market on South 4th Street. Though there's a bit of a chill in the air, the roads are clear. The mood is light, and employees and customers enjoy friendly conversation. But exactly one year ago, it was a very different story. With the power grid down and gas stations throughout the area hobbled, it didn't take long for Russell to understand the gravity of the situation.
"I had so many customers come up and they were just begging for kerosene or gasoline to get home. It broke my heart to see little old men and little old ladies with a two-gallon kerosene can getting up there, because they didn't have any heat."
So when a chance opportunity presented itself, he jumped on it.
"Charlie from CDM comes by and he needed some gas..."
The Charlie he speaks of is Charlie McKenney (of CDM Construction).
"...and he said he had a big generator. And he said, Why don't we go get it and see if we can hook it up. And so Charlie helped me and we got the thing up and running, and we just took off from there."
When the word got out, and it got out quickly, there was a rush on the station.
"I had to call in every employee that could get here. A lot of us pumped gas outside and mostly kerosene. There were lines a hundred yards long for kerosene, and for two blocks there were cars backed up, because people were out of gas. They couldn't get home. They had no heat."
Traffic was so chaotic, in fact, that the Murray Police temporarily closed Gary's Market.
"And I asked them if I provided the traffic control, could I proceed to help these people, and they gave me the go-ahead to reopen."
He says volunteers came in numbers, and they worked tirelessly.
"A gentleman by the name of Bill Speed. He runs a siding company here in town. He worked all day as hard as he could. And then Charlie McKenney, he helped. It's just different ones volunteered. I can't remember all of them. You have to remember it was cold. It was awful outside and somebody had to stay at the kerosene pumps constantly and freezing their hands off and stuff. Everybody worked together and we got through it.
Calloway County Emergency Management Director Bill Call says it's important to be prepared, so we're not stuck in an emergency. We can take some good lessons away the fuel crisis that arose from last year's ice storm.
"It's very smart to keep at least a half tank or so of gasoline, so that you have the ability to get out of the area if that's necessary or to go some little distance. Having a can like you use for your lawnmower gas, gives you another little backup. If you're going to store it for a long period of time, it really needs stabilizer in it, but that's easy to do."
It goes beyond fuel. Call points out a three-day rule for preparedness.
"What we recommend to our agencies and to our citizens is the three-day rule of being able to be self-sufficient for three days. So that's in terms of water, in terms of food, in terms of medicines, in terms of some auxiliary heat and communication plan. Usually in three days, at that point things begin to be coordinated."
But though we try, we can't always be ready for a crisis. It's a comfort to know that regular people, like Gary Russell, are there to rise to the occasion. As Murray's power situation limped back to life who can forget driving up and down 12th Street seeing first darkness, then after a few days patches of light here and there Russell kept his fuel pumps operational.
"I saw the need to help the people. It wasn't because I was trying to make money... God knows I lost money in this ordeal. But to help your neighbor, that's what I tried to do."
Gary Russell wasn't the only local business owner to step up during the crisis. So while we're focusing on his story today, let's reflect with him. Neighbors helping neighbors is what makes ordinary people an extraordinary community.
Bill Call also recommends having a battery powered radio, and batteries.
Visit Ready.gov for information on how to prepare a readiness kit in the event of emergency.