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Diary of Irene: 6 Days Without Power

How long will this be an adventure? The answer is: not long at all.

roared into Ellicott City on the last Saturday in August. By very late Saturday night the trees were bending, the rain was lashing and the house was moaning. At 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning we lost power in our home.

Day 1 – Sunday

When the power went off at 2:30 a.m., I put electric candles in my children’s rooms so they wouldn’t notice their night lights were out. I was awake anyway, because my older daughter was scared of the loud wind and kept calling me into her room. She finally fell asleep a few hours later, but I didn’t. It was already getting hot in my room.

Sunday morning dawned bright, but still a bit windy. My older daughter, exhausted from her tossing and turning, slept until 10:45, but the little one was up at about 8 playing happily. Our tentative brunch at my parents' house in Potomac was canceled since neither of us had power, but the day ahead looked pleasant and it didn’t seem a big deal.

By 11 a.m. the power in Potomac was back on, so we headed down there for lunch. I didn’t bring anything from our large fridge/freezer combo or the big basement freezer, believing the power would be back on by the time we got home anyway. 

After lunch we kept checking the BGE website and calling for updates. Nothing useful, but clearly the outage was very widespread. I began to wonder about the first day of school, scheduled for Monday …

The girls had a wonderful afternoon with their grandparents, but I grew more and more frustrated. I could tell our power was still out because our home phone was going straight to voicemail, but what was worrying me most was wondering about school the next day. If HCPSS would simply let us know one way or the other, we could stay in Potomac.

About 6 p.m., on our way home, the update from HCPSS came through. ; the notification was way too late to be helpful.

We arrived home to very dark neighborhood, with the exception of the house two doors down/across. They were ablaze with lights thanks to their outrageously loud generator. 

I don’t begrudge them their electricity, but the sound! It was like a jet plane was idling in their driveway.

Day 2 – Monday

Not the first day of school, but that turned out to be a good thing.  The girls didn’t sleep well. It was hot, the air was still, the windows were open and the neighbor’s generator was loud. LOUD. We spent a restless night, followed by a breakfast of a dozen mixed pastries from Giant. 

My husband had gone to Starbucks (not open) and ended up at Giant. His impulse buys were yummy. We were happy.

We remembered to keep the fridge and freezers closed, and knew that even after this amount of time our food was probably still just fine.

It was still an adventure for the kids today. We’re eating as much of our cold cuts and cheese as we can. My husband had to go into work for a while, so the girls and I just hung out and played games. 

Then I grilled everything I could. I’ve never grilled before but our trusty Weber did fine. I grilled 20 small pieces of fish, a steak, a pork chop, 15 hot dogs and a rack of ribs. It’s a meat festival in the dark.

Later that evening we realized our water heater is actually gas and not electric. Warm showers for everyone!

Day 3 – Tuesday

It wasn’t especially easy getting the kids up early. This first day of school is always a shock after a summer of sleeping in, but with no power the challenge was compounded. But they had the last of the milk (now in a cooler of ice of course) and granola bars and fruit for breakfast.

It’s the first day of first grade at a new school and I am more nervous than my daughter. I wish I could have at least blown my hair dry so I don’t look like a crazy woman with all of these untamed curls. 

Once she was off, it was time to figure out how to spend the day with my little one. I had looked forward to this time together, but it was wasted driving around town in search of more ice, friendly electrical outlets for my cell phone and my laptop, both dead, etc. At Target I purchased car charges for both, at the cost of $60. 

We sat in front of Barnes & Noble and used the Internet, but the connection isn’t secure. It’s an impossibility for me to run my online business properly during this time. I’m losing sales, customers, valuable marketing time and lots of income.

Day 4 – Wednesday

Washed two loads of laundry in the bathtub today, and hung them out to dry on lines crisscrossing my deck. This is ridiculous, but the kids need pajamas!

I spoke with a kind lady at Howard County Office of Public Information today. I had called her for information for an article I was writing but ended up talking mostly about how my family was coping. She told me about the military ration food (MREs) available to us, and about the fact that firefighters were canvassing the neighborhoods without power to check on people. I have not seen any, but my daughter and I walked up the street to check on some especially elderly neighbors.

We played puzzles and visited some friends. More restaurant meals … this is getting to be routine. And that is really unacceptable.

We are lucky—we have water (and even hot water when we need it!) and we have the ways and means to get out and get food. What about those here in our own town that don’t? What about the people who can’t afford to eat every meal out or don’t have transportation to go to the grocery store twice a day to pick up small items? 

I would estimate that we lost at least $500 worth of food, which is a horrible hardship. At least it will be when I have to go shopping again! I cleaned out all of our freezers and refrigerators completely today. They sparkle like brand new and stand open, airing out. It was awful to throw away bag after bag of food.

Day 5 – Thursday

Spent all morning in the car in front of Barnes & Noble, using their Internet while balancing my laptop on the armrest and watching my 3-year-old play patiently in her carseat. Lunch at Chik-Fil-A, then at my husband’s work for a few hours of electronics charging and a change of scenery. 

As of 5:57 p.m. when I was last able to check the Internet, BGE.com reported 3,081 Howard County residents still without power. A total of 62,457 BGE customers out of 1.2 million were still out of power across the BGE service area. 

After five days I find those numbers shocking. I understand this was unprecedented and that millions of people lost their electricity, and that the vast majority have been restored. But if BGE can’t manage to get their systems and equipment up and running again in this amount of time, I believe that reveals an extreme flaw in the company’s disaster and recovery plan, and overall condition of equipment, staffing, communications, etc. I would challenge Howard County legislators to protect their constituents and work to make sure we are not in this kind of a position again. 

I would also like to formally complain about BGE’s lack of useful information during this situation. Their website and phone systems gave me no information other than the very vague, which makes me feel even more powerless than I am already. A few hazy colored dots on the screen do not help me at all. Hey BGE, I want to know about my neighborhood, my street; not just the general picture about what is going on in your service area. I only care about me.

ME, do you hear?

I have finally lost it, but we were lucky enough to be invited to a friend’s house for dinner and it was fantastic. The kids had fun and it was nice to hang out as if everything were normal again.

Day 6 – Friday

The girls finally slept alright last night. Could it be that they are used to this routine? That it’s becoming their norm? That having to bathe by flashlight has actually become the routine?

Today the little one saw a Blue’s Clues book at Barnes & Noble and said sadly, “I used to watch Blue on our TV. A long time ago when we had electricity.”

Then we went to the playground to stay out of the house, followed by lunch at a restaurant with friends. I may never eat out again. I’m so sick of cheap restaurant food and paying too much for it.

We stopped by the Senior Center to get our MREs. People say they are delicious, but I’m not so sure. I guess I’ll find out!

Back home, trying to air out my stinky, stuffy house (despite the nice weather, which I am thankful for).

2:15 p.m.  As I walked by my open, sparkling clean refrigerator, the interior light quietly turned on. There were no trumpets, no choruses of “Halleluiah.” But then I heard cheering throughout the neighborhood.

Finally. Power. 

Let the laundry and grocery shopping begin.

And those fire trucks that the county promised to send to check on us finally showed up. At 4:30 p.m. I appreciate the thought, I really do. But we were without power for about 150 hours and they showed up 2 ½ hours after it came back on. 

We’re fine, we made it. Thank you. 

Now back to business as usual.

Glenelg September 06, 2011 at 10:34 PM
Perhaps you should become a little more self reliant and get a generator as well. If you have natural gas, a quiet unit can be installed to power your basic requirements. Not having one is a choice. This event is a reminder to everyone to be better prepared for emergencies.
Melissa Kay September 08, 2011 at 02:30 AM
Not everyone has the means, resources or will to buy a generator. Think of the noise that surrounding neighbors would have to tolerate as well as the degradation of air quality from the exhaust. This storm reminds us of our dependence on energy and should make us think of reasonable alternatives during emergencies.

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