Thoroughbred farms in central Kentucky were gamely plugging away in cleanup mode but were still without electricity Monday afternoon, some 72 hours after a ferocious series of storms ripped through the region.
Even though the epicenter of the damage from the devastating July 20 downpours and 70 MPH winds was in Woodford County between Versailles and Midway, there have been no known reports of deaths or injuries to Thoroughbreds or their caretakers at the cluster of high-profile farms in that region.
That good news about no casualties, several representatives from the area’s breeding operations told TDN, is what is buoying the spirits of workers attempting to prioritize the recovery from property damage while still going about the day-to-day business of feeding and grooming the thousands of horses stabled there.
The restoration of power is estimated at sometime this week, although no one seems to know for sure. Beyond that, the overall “back to normal” cleanup might be measured in months.
“It’s pretty crazy if you drive out here and look at it,” said Mike Cline, the farm manager at Lane’s End. “It looks like a bomb went off or we had a tornado, but all I’ve heard was it was straight-line winds. They just blew over, snapped off, and uprooted hundred-year-old trees. It’s hard to imagine much more damage than what we’ve been dealing with. But we’ll handle it. We’re tough. We’re just getting tested a little bit right now.”
Straight-line winds are produced by abrupt momentum shifts in the downdraft region of a thunderstorm. A meteorological recipe conducive to their forming combines strong updrafts and downdrafts with dry, ground-hugging air when a storm has fast forward motion.
Chris Baker, the chief operating officer for Three Chimneys Farm, said that scenario pretty much describes what happened to the farms near the Versailles Road, Midway Road, and Old Frankfort Pike corridors.
“From what I’ve read and who I’ve spoken with, there’s a [damage] swath in Woodford County that goes from Ashford to Gainsborough to Airdrie to Lane’s End; WinStar to Three Chimneys,” Baker said, detailing the region that was hit heaviest by the storm. “It is an area that’s been susceptible to these kind of straight-line winds. They tend to come up through this alleyway that hits all these farms. When you look at it all on a map, it’s that contiguous area.”
Cline added that, “Midway Road was closed for a couple days. They’re starting to get it open. Since the storm there have been 15 to 20 utility trucks working there all the time.”
Ben Henley, the general manager at Airdrie Stud, said that on his property alone, some 200 to 300 trees are down and dozens of fallen power lines on the farm still pose a risk.
“We were very fortunate that we didn’t get a horse hurt. With over 400 horses on the farm, that’s remarkable,” Henley said. “There are a lot of people around Lexington without power. I’m sure the residential areas are a priority before they get out to the farms. Getting cleaned up by September would probably be my goal at this point.”
Baker said a hay storage barn at Three Chimneys was completely leveled, and that the main offices and stallion complex also sustained significant damage. Three Chimneys does have running water, he added, which is not the case at some of the other affected properties.
“We had a lot of scrambling around to do to get horses in safe from pastures and paddocks that had downed fences and downed trees,” Baker explained. “I can’t put a dollar figure on the damage right now. We have an insurance adjuster out this afternoon starting that process.”
Baker continued: “We’ll probably be several weeks to a month, month and a half, to get everything cleaned up. We still have yearlings in prep and horses to feed and look after; pastures and roadsides to mow. We’re staffed to handle a normal workload. So when you have additional work like this, we’re trying to prioritize what we can take on and manage ourselves, and what will be outsourced. From an equipment standpoint, we’re going to have to outsource, because we don’t have the big equipment like cherry-pickers, those kinds of things. That’s probably going to be our biggest challenge moving forward.”
Cline said that even the Lane’s End’s office staffers–who can’t work the farm’s computers without electricity and internet access–were out lending a hand to the daunting cleanup efforts.
“Everybody’s a team out here. I’ve got the best staff in the country,” Cline said. “They’re out here working when daylight starts. But it would help everybody’s attitude a little bit if we could get the power back on. After a few days of not having a proper shower, these guys deserve a break.”
Baker summed up: “It gives you a healthy respect for the power of Mother Nature.”