CANNONSBURG Robert Rigsby sits at a table with an open Monopoly board, holding a cane in the Boyd County Convention and Arts Center

A former truck driver of 30 years, Rigsby had seen his share of disasters — he’s driven supplies to hurricane impact zones in the past.

He’s also seen his share of ice storms, too, up his holler on White’s Creek Road. Each time, he’s been able to ride it out.

But last Friday, when the first of the winter storms came rolling through, his power got knocked out. Rigsby said his first thought was going to a motel — but they were all booked up. And with kerosene heaters as scarce as a poke of tobacco at a preacher’s conference, Rigsby turned to the Boyd County warming center.

He didn’t stay long — by Saturday evening, he was back at home.

Then Monday night happened — the night the icy trees began tumbling to the ground like the walls of Jericho.

Rigsby was in the cold again.

“The National Guard was trying to get up there in a Humvee to get me, but they couldn’t get past all the trees,” Rigsby said. “I had to bundle up in two sweatpants, a Carhart jacket, two shirts and lay under three blankets to stay warm.”

While Rigsby said he made it through the night; he knew if he’d stayed any longer, he’d be sick. Getting up to use the restroom — going from warm, to cold, to warm — is a recipe for pneumonia.

“If I’d gotten that, it would’ve been the third time I’ve had it,” Rigsby said.

Some neighbors of his broke out the chainsaws and hacked up some trees, getting the road passable, Rigsby said. By Tuesday morning, Rigsby was back at the warming center.

“This is a survival thing,” Rigsby said. “I’ve went through ice storms before, but this one just got compounded by having two in a row. We were right in the bull’s-eye where I live.”

Rigsby’s story is just one of many of the tales of folks who have come through the Boyd County warming shelter.

Friday afternoon, the main area of the convention center — where events such as Dancing with The Stars and boxing matches are held — was populated with about 20 people, laying in cots, watching TV or playing board games. Bundled in coats and sweaters, these refugees from Old Man Winter’s wrath seemed reasonably comfortable for an otherwise extraordinary situation.

In the kitchen, volunteers were preparing a pan of mac and cheese.

Justin Pruitt, head of the county park’s department, has been overseeing the warming shelter since it opened last Thursday, Feb. 11. Pruitt said the station has seen its inflows and outflows of folks, as well as power.

In the first few days, the center — run completely on its generator — saw day visitors, folks stopping by to get warm and charge their cell phones, according to Pruitt. For instance, Rigsby said he stayed the night by himself last Friday.

But when the second ice storm hit and Boyd County went black with power outages, Pruitt said a heck of a lot more people started coming in.

“We’ve been working with Tim England (head of Emergency Management) and we started asking for help from volunteers and for food donations,” Pruitt said. “People came out — we started to have to turn volunteers away, because there was nothing for them to do.”

Within days, donations from local restaurants, volunteer organizations and churches flooded the warming shelter — King’s Daughter’s Medical Center started providing medical care to folks with conditions, due to the high concentration of elderly people.

“There’s a lot of things you have to keep in mind with an operation like this,” Pruitt said. “In some ways, this turned into a full clinic. There’s a lot of people here who aren’t in the best of health and need regular treatments, so it was key to have KDMC out here to provide them with care.”

On Thursday, 65 people were staying at the center — luckily 40 were able to go home once their power was restored, Pruitt said.

“Supplies are high and the number of people are low, so we’re in good shape,” Pruitt said. “I can’t thank the community enough — it’s been unreal.”

And with 10,000 square feet of space, Pruitt said social distancing hasn’t been a huge challenge, either, with the shelter.

One of the best parts of the center has been the community, however fleeting, established between total strangers, Pruitt said.

“A lot of people might not get out too much, so being around all these people allows them a lot of social interaction,” Pruitt said. “They might not ever see each other again, but they get along pretty well here. It just goes to show you how strong of a community we are.”

That community strength can also be seen in the volunteers — take, for instance, Ashland Mayor Matt Perkins, who has put in his time at the shelter for three days going on Friday. While a small business owner and the mayor of the biggest city in Boyd County, Perkins said he just came down to act as an Indian, not a Chief.

“I’m not in charge here at all,” Perkins said. “If they say, ‘Matt, you need to run this person home,’ I do it. I’ve just been amazed at the amount of food and volunteers we’ve had out here and how much support there is in the community for people helping people.”

Perkins continued, “There’s so many people I know who have dropped their own problems — even when they don’t have power _ to come here to help somebody else.”

Rigsby said the warming shelter “has been a God-send.”

“If they keep feeding me like this, they might have to wheel me out of here in a wheelchair,” Rigsby joked. “I might not want to leave.”

AREA WARMING CENTERS

•Boyd County Convention Center: 15605 St. Rt. 180, Catlettsburg

•Flatwoods Senior Center: 2513 Reed Street, Flatwoods

•Raceland American Legion: 439 Greenup Ave., Raceland

•Raceland Senior Center: 711 Chinn Street, Raceland

•Louisa Senior Center: 101 W. Pike Street, Louisa

•New Beginnings Assembly of God: 194 Promise Land Drive, Grayson

•First Baptist Church of Grayson: 162 N. Court Street, Grayson

•Laughlin Building (MSU): 230 University Blvd., Morehead

•Ohio University Southern (Ironton Campus): 1804 Liberty Ave., Ironton

•Salvation Army: 1001 9th Street, Portsmouth

(606) 326-2653 |

henry@dailyindependent.com

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