Silver Spring, MD – Across the eastern U.S., people struggled through a third day of heat and no electricity. Their groceries are long gone, either used up in weekend cookouts or left to spoil in useless refrigerators. The usual frozen treats people turn to on a sweltering summer day have melted.
The basics of daily life are difficult: Washing machines won’t work without electricity, leading to some creative wardrobes. Bottled water has gone from luxury to necessity for people whose underground wells aren’t pumping.
Storms that swept across the area late Friday left 22 people dead, and about 2 million people remained without power on Monday. Utility companies say it could be days before the lights are on again.
‘THEY NEED HELP’
Not a whole lot was functioning at the Springvale Terrace nursing home and senior center in Silver Spring: No air conditioning, no cable, no automatic doors for elderly residents using walkers who otherwise struggle to navigate them.
Window units were brought in to air condition rooms, and director Antonio Hill and his staff had to empty spoiling food from refrigerators and freezers in nursing units — sometimes over the loud objections of residents who insisted their melting ice cream was still good.
Generators provided electricity in common rooms, where TVs showed movies on old VHS tapes, including the 1932 classic “Grand Hotel.”
Residents coped as best they could. Ninety-three-year-old Margaret Foster and 95-year-old Helen Ofsharick passed the time outside.
“You wouldn’t want to live this way more than a day or so,” Foster said. “There are sick people here, or people who don’t think too well. They need help.”
FIRST TO GO DOWN, LAST TO COME BACK
Great Falls is one of the wealthiest areas in the nation, in Virginia just outside Washington, with mansions spread across secluded, wooded lots. But because the city is so sparsely populated, it’s not a top priority for crews trying to get as many people back online as quickly as possible.
“Great Falls always seems to be the first to go down and the last one to come back up,” said resident Patrick Muir, a patent attorney who was raiding water bottles from his powerless office to supply his home, which is on a well that was not operating. His 8-year-old daughter Mary accompanied him, speaking hopefully of a beach trip to escape the heat. Dad said it was under consideration.
Most of the city remained without power Monday.
A Safeway supermarket tried to remain open with a limited power supply and handed out free bags of dry ice. But the air inside was stale. Shopping carts with spoiled food, buzzing with flies, sat outside the store.
PLAYING WITH FLASHLIGHTS
When the storms first rolled through Friday, Natalie Driscoll’s electricity went out. It came back a few hours later, only to be knocked out again Sunday when another storm swept through.
“My 2-year-old thought it was kind of fun at first,” said Driscoll, the mother of two children. “She got to play with the new flashlights” the family bought after the first outage.
Mom wasn’t so amused. She packed her bags and took the children from their Springfield, Ohio, home to stay with her parents in Upper Sandusky, about two hours away. Driscoll also loaded up two coolers with food, hoping to save it from certain spoilage in the family’s freezer and refrigerator. Her husband stayed behind at their home.
“It looked like somebody pulled a Christmas tree down and laid it in our yard, instead of putting it by the curb,” said Driscoll, 28. “Thankfully, nothing hit our house.”
Author Thompson, a retired truck driver, said he’s had to navigate a labyrinth of roads to get patients to the Baltimore VA Medical Center. He’s a volunteer who drives people to their appointments.
“It’s been a royal pain today because going out, trying to pick patients up, there are roads closed, lights out, trees still down all over the place. You have to back track all over the place just to pick people up,” said Thompson, 54.
His electricity was back on by Saturday night, so he had to cope with no air conditioning for only about 24 hours. How did he do it?
“Sweat, that’s basically it,” Thompson said. A neighbor borrowed a generator and ran power cords to nearby houses so folks in the neighborhood could run their refrigerators and save their groceries.
IS IT BACK YET?
Leo Welsh repeatedly dialed the number to his Columbus, Ohio, home on Monday, hoping to hear the sweet sound of an answering machine indicating his electricity had been restored. By lunchtime, he resigned himself to the fact there was no answer.
“Getting worked up about it is not going to make the power come on any sooner,” said Welsh, 33, a nursing home administrator.
The first outage at his Columbus home, following winds of up to 80 mph on Friday, lasted only about 20 hours while other Ohio residents were told they might be in the dark for days. The second round of storms Sunday knocked out the lights throughout his neighborhood, including the ones that had remained on at the house next door, and Welsh figured it must be his turn to wait. So he packed the food from his refrigerator and the food his mother-in-law had brought over when her power went out, carted it to the extra refrigerator at his brother’s place in Grandview and patiently addressed his 3-year-old son’s questions about when someone might be coming by to fix the TV.