Across eastern US, with no power, people struggle

Associated Press
City workers George Kirk, right, and Joe Lane give away free bags of ice to residents at the Northwood Plaza shopping center in Baltimore on Monday July 2, 2012. Around 2 million customers from North Carolina to New Jersey and as far west as Illinois were without power Monday morning after a round of summer storms.  (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
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SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) — Across the eastern U.S., people are struggling through a third day of sweltering heat with 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 hot summer day have melted away.

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 nearly 1.8 million people remained without power Monday evening. 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 air-conditioner units were brought in to cool 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 community 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 Ohio on 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" that 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 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."

'I AM NOT A SUMMER PERSON'

After Hugh Neill and his wife, Diana, lost power late Friday, they spent the night at home before deciding against a hot and sticky weekend in Washington without electricity.

"I am not a summer person," said Diana.

"She is not a summer person, echoed Hugh, 77 and retired.

So they got rid of all their food — "total refrigerator, total freezer, total everything," Diana explained — and booked a hotel room in nearby Crystal City, Va. They've eaten their meals out and have made periodic trips home to gather belongings. The only hiccup came when they had to rent a car because Diana's car, the one with air conditioning, is still in the shop.

Although their electricity appeared to have been restored by Monday afternoon, the couple was not taking any chances and planned another night at their hotel.

LABYRINTH

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 without 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.

IN SEARCH OF WI-FI

University of Maryland Latin American Studies Professor Sandra Cypess traveled four miles with her laptop computer from her dark Potomac, Md., home to a Panera Bread store in Rockville to find the restaurant's power on, but its Wi-Fi down. Cypess said she'd have to find another place to do her work, annotating some book chapters.

"Yesterday we had to go to Virginia, to a friend who had just gotten his power back, and we brought some off our frozen food that still hadn't spoiled. He took us in and we used the internet and worked there for a while."

She said her tree-filled neighborhood often loses power during storms.

"It's not a one-time occurrence," she said. "Winter storms, summer storms, it happens."

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Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington; Dan Sewell in Cincinnati; Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio; Alex Dominguez in Baltimore; and David Dishneau in Rockville, Md., contributed to this report.

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