Wanda and the Ice Storm

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A friend of mine's sister lives in upstate New York, not too far from Montreal. She was there for last year's ice storm. As most probably recall, a major ice storm hit the northeast last year and put millions of people out of electricity for an extended period of time (up to 3 weeks or more in some places, I believe). It struck me then that the "on the ground" situation there is probably the closest recent thing we could reference to get a glimpse of what life with y2k power problems might be like. I wrote and asked if she'd write a few things about what it was like, what she saw, what she thought. And here's the first installment of Wanda and the Ice Storm...


The Only Can Opener

People were great. I'm glad that I was in a small town. I stayed at a strangers' house when I lost my electricity for 4 days. Everyone in our small community of about 300 pooled all of their resources. But Plattsburgh, with a population of about 15,000, wasn't that nice. I stayed with a guy from the National Guard and his family. They had riots at Wal-Mart over generators and the Guard was called in. Somehow, that story never made the papers. How's that for strange?

We weren't prepared for anything in this small community but we are now. Everyone has a stack of wood outside their house and everyone keeps gas in their grill. I have consulted camping cookbooks and books on how to get along without electricity. I had these books far before the ice storm because that is the kind of person I am. But now, I read them more.

The people who really didn't care if we had electricity or not were the ones who liked to camp out. But everyone else whined and thought the whole situation was terrible. The things people whine about. The stupid things people did. A few people in town made a run on the grocery store. One lady bought 20 dozen eggs and spent $300.00 on groceries. How did she keep those eggs? It was relatively warm. I lost the food I had in my freezer. Some people did fight over food. It was the richest people that totally panicked. Us poor people are used to not having everything when we want it.

Personally, I have a black & white 13" TV for news. I don't want to get hooked on it. I refuse to get cable. I read much, much more. I also don't want my kids to get hooked on gadgets. As a result, they are artists. NOW I have batteries in stock for radios and flashlights. And lots of candles and a lantern.

Out of 4 apartments, I was the only one with a can opener. Everyone else had electric ones. But, I make a habit of trying to use as little electricity as possible. I also had the only telephone that worked. Everyone else had extra doodads on theirs and it needed to be plugged in to work! Mind you, few people even had phone service but we did, IF you had an inexpensive phone attached to the line. I learned that my way of life was the best way to get through this. I always keep alot of blankets on hand "in case of an emergency". My neighbors from Florida (originally from Haiti) would have froze if it wasn't for my stock that first night.

I wasn't prepared for the ice storm but I was.

Apparently, Ice Storms happen every once in a while in New York but on a smaller scale. My friend lived through one in Rochester a few years back. She was in a shelter for a week. Her apartment was robbed twice. This was a big deal for her. She calls herself a "creature of comfort". I just don't have much in my house that anyone would want to take. Mostly necessities. I leave my door unlocked. If people look at my junk, they'd turn around a walk out. However, it IS a gold mine for survival. No one really would appreciate it unless you were in that situation.

I just believe in disaster preparedness. Not just Y2K. And that frame of mind did pay off for me.

I must say, I DID enjoy parts of it. A break from that crazy routine. I really DO enjoy the snowstorms so the kids & I get to stay home. Maybe do some things we don't normally take the time to do. Cut pictures out of magazines, sip hot chocolate. And no one can MAKE us go to work or school!

People stole generators off of peoples' yards. So, some people put their generators in their garages and basements. As a result, there was alot of carbon monoxide poisoning and a few deaths. Me, I can't afford one, but am preparing to live without one. What happens when the gas runs out?

Most stations weren't even open! It will be the richest going crazy having to live without TV etc. BUT, the local TV station lost their tower and couldn't even broadcast! It buckled under ice. Stations took turns using one tower, I guess. My favorite station only turned itself on for the news only for about a week. Cable lines went down. Only us people with antennas had TV. NOW everyone is purchasing the satellite dishes.

-- Wanda (wjtolbert@yahoo.com), January 18, 1999


Doubletakes, Playing Cards, and Silence

My babysitter has a kerosene furnace in her trailer house. But, it wouldn't run without the assistance of electricity. She purchased one of those portable kerosene heaters for the occasion. She had plenty in her tank outside so she didn't need to make an emergency run in the middle of it all.

The way I see it, the more little things that people can think of to make life more comfortable, the better for all of us who will be prepared. Some people laugh and think that nothing will happen. Those people are the first ones knocking on my door when they need something e.g. the extra blankets.

Even a pack of playing cards in stock helps ease the burden of boredom. Video games that use electricity and batteries wouldn't last very long in an emergency situation. I found a book at a garage sale that had 100 card games in it. A time such as this would be a good time to read it.

My main concern is what my children have to live without. It is a game for them to camp out now and figure out different ways to cook. Little do they know that they are learning some valuable skills they quite possibly will need in the future.

Everyone was sad for the trees. No branches left. It changed the landscape so much that we had to do a doubletake to make sure that we were on the right street in our little town. I am still amazed a year later when I travel out of this area as to how many branches that trees actually have!

One thing we always took for granted were power lines and poles along the side of our roads. But, when they were caked with ice 4 inches thick and were sagging and leaning, we now saw them as a hazard. Trying to get around town and avoid these objects was nearly impossible. People were injured by chunks of falling ice. I was driving around trying to find shelter because I was not going to stay in my fully electric apartment with the kids. A wire got caught on my car and I pulled a leaning pole down. Boy, was I scared. But the fire department said that the line was already dead.

On the first night, the town was completely quiet except for the sound of cracking branches. How eerie. A person never thinks of how much noise electricity actually creates. The sound of lights buzzing. Compressors for refrigerators and freezers, etc. We got to know what silence sounded like. I'm sitting here listening to my computer hum. We get used to these noises somehow and when their gone, there's silence. And you notice it. And you know that this isn't normal. Then the transformers started falling off of some light poles. Big blue flashes filled the sky everytime a live one fell.

One 15 year old neighbor made the comment that she felt like she was living in one of those disaster movies only it wasn't so funny.

-- Wanda (wjtolbert@yahoo.com), January 19, 1999.

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