updated 2/10/2009 4:36:58 PM ET 2009-02-10T21:36:58

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday the federal government would deviate from normal practice and reimburse Kentucky for 75 percent of the cost of activating its National Guard in last month's crippling winter storm.

Napolitano called the Jan. 27 storm Kentucky's worst in more than a century, blanketing the region with snow and ice and knocking out power to about 769,000 customers.

"Normally the National Guard is a state responsibility and governors assume that and budget for it and that's the way it is," Napolitano said. "But this situation was so broad and so unique — and the need for the Guard to get out there and do those door-to-door wellness checks, particularly in the western parts of the state, are such that I feel it necessary to create an exception from our normal practice."

First trip for Napolitano
Napolitano planned to tour storm damage in Frankfort and Paducah before moving on to Kansas and Iowa on her first trip as head of homeland security.

Kentucky officials have attributed 33 deaths to the storm. About 45,000 customers were still without power on Tuesday, utility officials said.

Some 101 counties and 75 cities have declared states of emergency, and President Barack Obama has issued a major disaster declaration for the state.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear activated his state's entire Army National Guard on Jan. 31 and at one point there were about 4,600 guard troops helping. Among other things, they were called on to help remove storm debris and conduct door-to-door safety checks in isolated rural areas.

Cleaning up is next task
Napolitano credited Beshear for the government's response helping people in hard-hit areas of the state with food, water and shelter.

"Gov. Beshear has really been a model of what a governor does. You take hold, you take charge and you get the work done," Napolitano said. "And you realize that people's lives are at stake, and you've got to move quickly because you have hours, not days in many instances to make sure that people are safe."

Cleaning up the damage is the next daunting task.

"It is uncertain how long it will take for us to fully repair and rebuild all that has been broken or demolished," Beshear said. "But no matter how long it takes, we will not abate our efforts until the last road is clear, the last home has power and the last family is safe."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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