Comments from Governor Mike DeWine, Ohio, respectively, February 17 & 19, 2021:
“Gallia County has been placed under a state of emergency. Lawrence County was put under a state of emergency Wednesday night.”
“Thousands of people in the area are still without power because downed trees are getting in the way of utility crews that are trying to fix the power lines. By calling in the Ohio National Guard, we can help restore power faster and also prevent future flooding by removing debris from the water before the weather warms up.”
When the first ice storm hit on a Thursday evening, John, my husband, and I had just eaten an early dinner. Within the hour of finishing dinner, the power kicked off. We tried to get our generator working, but to no avail. Ultimately, the power only ended up being off 6-8 hours. No big deal in the grand scheme of things.
Life went on as normal for John, our college-aged daughter, Madelyn, and me. However, we could see some signs of storm demolition all along the state route on which we live in Ohio. Additionally, many of our co-workers living in WV were without power for days, with a few never regaining power before the second round of ice hit February 15.
The following Monday, due to the storm’s impending presence, I made the call to once again, prepare dinner early. (My Depression-era Grandmother Slater would be so proud by the way in which I prioritized food on the nights of both storms!) We had just sat down to eat, when we heard what sounded like a gun-fire. Then came another, and another, and another as branches all around our rural home began breaking. ½ inch, or thicker, of ice coated trees making them look like winter goblins with tentacles of certain danger and doom.
Next began, what at first my confused mind thought was, lightning. Lightning in the midst of snow, ice, and sleet? Wait a minute . . .the cogs in my brain spun faster. Flashes of light repeatedly displayed all around us. Transformers and power lines were exploding like bombs as the pop, pop, pop of trees branches continued to battle on. Craaack! With the snap of a limb, our home’s power seemed to disintegrate along with the trees. Darkness enveloped us, and the sound of the weather war soldiered on all around. This. Was. It.
Scrambling for flashlights, candles, and emergency radio, Maddie and I made our way through the house as John kept stepping outside checking on the house and our vehicles. Gallon jugs of water were strategically placed throughout the house because when we lose power, we likewise lose running water due to the fact we have well-water that makes its way into our pipes via an electric well pump. We made jokes regarding the toilet. “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” Resorting to potty humor was, indeed, juvenile, but laughter seemed better than crying. Little did we know we were in for five days worth of no power or running water.
Going to bed that night, extra quilts on the bed (Thank you, Mammaw Musick!), we fell asleep to the snap, crackle, pop of what was NOT the famous cereal, but instead the very real surrounding woodland. Waking in the morning, the house temperature had significantly dropped. Walking quietly into the kitchen, as I was the first one up, I realized I would not be starting my day with a hot cup of coffee. The fun had only begun.
Facts from Jeff Jenkins, Saturday, February 20, 2021, Metro News The Voice of West Virginia:
“Ice storms hit on Feb. 11 and then again on Feb. 15.”
“After the two storms, outages peaked at 97,000.” (In WV alone)
“Around 44,000 customers remain out of power. Counties most affected include Cabell, where 15,019 customers are without service; Wayne, 14,203; Putnam, 5,074; Lincoln, 3,973; Jackson, 2,343; and Mason, 2,402.” (As of February 20)
“A total of 27 bunkhouses are now in place at the Huntington Mall to house the additional (power) workers. Due to COVID-19 precautions, they will be filled only at half capacity, or 15 workers per trailer.”
Our neighbor shared with us that early Tuesday morning–he typically leaves for work around 4:00 a.m.–when he attempted the short three mile drive to the next state route in order to reach his place of employment, he was stopped by a sheriff deputy who told him that 20 or more trees were down over the road! Hours later, when John and I finally ventured out for more gallon jugs of water, instant coffee (I found a camp stove pot for heating water.) and a few other supplies, it was like traveling an obstacle course over those same three miles. We navigated around downed trees and limbs, fallen telephone and electric poles, power lines, and so much natural debris. All around us, the typically scenic route looked like a war zone. There were countless dark, injured homes and vehicles with shattered safety glass. Shrapnel of wood covered the roads and glistening white snow. Meanwhile sparkling tree limbs, weighed down by ice, bent their weapons of glassy appendages toward those of us daring to drive under and around their glacial shafts. Scraaape! Their frosted tips like fingernails scraped our windows, hood, and doors.
Ever the conscientious recyclers, John and I veered off-course on our way to Huntington, to drop off our recyclables in the designated receptacles located in a large parking lot behind the local post office. Much to our astonishment, this parking lot of a large abandoned storefront was not empty as it usually is. Instead, there were twenty to thirty power vehicles loaded with buckets, bulldozing equipment, transformers, power poles, and so forth. Men were gathered in circles talking–hard hats and traditional cold weather garments adorned these burly, red faced men. John and I felt an overwhelming surge of gratitude. These men, based upon their truck identification, were from Indiana, parts of Ohio–near and far, as well as Kentucky.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”–William Arthur Ward
John rolled down his window. I rolled down mine. Out each of our windows, we began thanking these unknown men for the efforts to abate the surrounding devastation and destruction. Meanwhile, in an ironic twist of fate, sea gulls circled and called, seemingly encouraging these workers onward.
We repeated our words of gratitude any time we ventured for supplies throughout this past icy week. Often, opportunity would occur after waiting for our turn to drive in a single lane as we slowly made our past men working on power lines along our state route. It was important to us that they know their efforts were heartfully appreciated, especially given the bitter weather conditions.
While I know that these power workers, tree removal specialists, state troopers, local law enforcement, National Guard members, and other community members were compensated for their time, they were, nonetheless, sacrificing time away from their family, friends, and loved ones. This is time that they will never get back in order to help restore power for complete strangers. Hours spent in frigid temperatures, snow squalls, and dangerous conditions is not for the faint of heart. This type of work requires grit, determination, and empathy–the ability to feel the needs of others.
Therefore, to all the men and women who have and/or are working to repair the power, remove the fallen trees, restore safe road travel, and return water and power services to the many without, my family and I thank you. Thank you for your long hours, your exposure to the winter elements, and your personal risk in often dangerous situations. We are grateful for your time, energy, focus. Behind each repair that you make, were/are people’s lives for whom your work is making a difference. May your generosity circle back to you in some form. Thank you, thank you, thank you.