CANNONSBURG All up and down Johnson Fork, the trees are snapped and leaning – the ditches are plumb full of hacked limbs and trunks.
With a plow on the front of his truck and salt shooting out of the auger in the rear — scattering it on the road — Sean Maroudis expertly drives down the ice-covered road. Dressed in Carhartt bibbed overalls, Maroudis is a stout, strong man with a dark salt-and-pepper beard — while he worked 19 years an ICU nurse, Maroudis has been rearing beef and raising horses for most of his life.
That’s how he got into the Boyd County Roads Department a few years ago. The man knows how to drive a tractor.
Riding along Johnson Fork, Maroudis points to the ditches, filled with broken and sawed limbs. He says it’s the midnight crew, “the real heroes” of this ordeal.
To Maroudis, it’s understandable why a lot of folks are frustrated with the power outages, especially in hard-hit southern Boyd County. After all, if you’re stuck in your living room in say, Westwood, you might not see the devastation in the country.
Out along Johnson Fork, the sheer magnitude of the downed trees are astounding — Maroudis reckons it’ll take the rest of the year getting the ditches cleared out. More than a few were snapped right at the base — on some of the hills, the roots have pulled clear up through the ground.
Limbs hang from the power lines, dangling over the road.
There’s a few near-misses, where widowmakers fell mere feet from the home, perhaps a branch or two brushing the gutter of the home.
As Maroudis travels down the road, he said he finally got his generator situation figured out — he’s had one for 20 years, but it gave up the ghost in the middle of the ice storm. His family ended up staying with relatives in Ohio; he was sleeping on a cot at the shop.
Having repaired the generator and laying down money on a backup, Maroudis got a phone call from his wife telling him the house is about up to 67 degrees — “summer time,” Maroudis jokes.
At the bottom of a hill that was darn near impassable mere days ago, two trees lay across the road — one propped up by a wood pallet.
The tree limbs are trimmed back just enough to pass through … barely. That’s why the county’s been running its pick-ups 24/7 for the last week — there’s no way to get the single-axle dump trucks down these roads without hitting leaning trees or ripping down power lines.
Maroudis eases the truck under the first tree — he passes with a few scrapes from some twigs. On the second tree, though, a nub of a trimmed branch rakes across the roof. The plowman stops for a second, causing the reporter riding in his passenger seat to wonder: Are we going to make it?
Maroudis pushes a lever or two on his bed, turns the wheel and slides the truck past — it’s tight but it’s a fit.
Though Maroudis is certainly not green when it comes to operating heavy equipment, this sort of situation like still gives him a bit of apprehension.
Out of Johnson Fork and back through Catlettsburg, Maroudis drives the truck south on U.S. 23 — the hardest-hit zones in the county, where folks are still trapped by ice and timber. The chains rattle and rumble on the road — Maroudis said if you drive a truck long enough, you’ll hear those chains in your sleep.
State Route 3 is wide open, a few patches are still covered by snow and ice. More hacked and cracked wood line the ditches. He puts his plow down and it digs into the snow pack. “Let her eat,” as Maroudis said.
Turning left up Indian Trail, Maroudis tries to make it to Callahan Ridge. However, at the bottom, a telephone cable blocks the way, pulled across the road taut like a clothesline. Maroudis tries it, but it the line gets hung up on the bed.
After getting out and pulling the cable out, Maroudis backs out and performs a 12-point turn up another hill to get the rig going back the way it came. A Dodge Ram comes the opposite direction, but stops when it becomes evident the plow truck isn’t going to make it.
Back down Route 3, Maroudis picks up Callahan Ridge, where once upon a time he recalled talks of a ski resort. This was back in the 1970s, when Maroudis was a boy. While developers erected a few chalets by an old lake, the deal ultimately fell through after investors figured Boyd County didn’t get enough snow — at least that’s how Maroudis remembers it.
Along the mountain, overseeing the entirety of southern Boyd, Maroudis is stopped by a guy on a side-by-side.
His wife or girlfriend’s car was stuck and he was afraid it was going to get towed by the roads department — it was trapped by trees and power lines, he said. Maroudis tells him “Roads” isn’t towing; the crews are just trying to clear out the roads.
A little farther down the road, another side-by-side, filled with volunteer firefighters, was running fuel to one of those chalets. Trapped and unable to get out, around 30 people were holed up inside one of the homes with heat — supplies were running low, so the fire department was running them what they need.
Heading toward State Route 180, the smell of pine fills the area where crews had recently cut some trees.
Down in Rush, AEP and various contractors gather in a parking lot with a fresh pole ready to go. It isn’t the first AEP sighting — they’ve been all over the place, “running up and down the hills like ants,” Maroudis said.
Without even missing a beat, the man who has worked 11 days straight, with the last four days on 12-hour shifts, and who has slept on cot inside the roads garage, says, “Those guys have worked their guts out.”
Everyone is out here — whether it be a firefighter, a plow person, a tree crew or a line worker — everybody has been out here trying to get things situated, things back to normal.
But with so many trees down and so many lines broken in the woods, it’s going to take a while.
“I’ve worked midnights with those guys for almost 14 days straight,” said Boyd County Judge-Executive Eric Chaney. “We have the best roads department in the state. I’d put them up against anybody.”
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