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Sunday, July 8,2012

Power outages linger 10 days after storm

People cope with brutal heat in a variety of ways

By Jim Phillips
Photo Credits: Dustin Franz
Photo Caption: A family from West Virginia and others cool off at Stround's Run State Park near Athens Friday where temperatures reached near 100 degrees.

As of Sunday morning, American Electric Power Ohio's website was indicating that nearly 2,500 Athens Countians remained without power following the powerful storm on June 29, and some later bad weather on top of it.

Though AEP crews, beefed up with many out-of-state workers, have been working long hours over the past week and weekend to restore the power here and in other places around the state, some people remain without electricity in scattered locations.

A handful of homes on Briarwood and Northwood drives, cul-de-sac roads on Athens' north side, for instance, reportedly have been without power since the storm hit Friday night, June 29. While some in the neighborhood regained power, lost it Wednesday, then got it back, Mary Costello of 24 Northwood said she and some elderly neighbors are still waiting.

Costello said she knows of four homes – hers, her neighbor's, and two on Briarwood – that have not had power since the storm.

Her neighbor, she said, is a woman in her 80s, as is a woman on Briarwood who's without power. This is of particular concern because of the sweltering heat the region has been experiencing, which is especially tough on older people.

Costello expressed frustration that she has tried and tried to alert AEP Ohio to the situation, but to no avail.

"I've called AEP numerous times," she said. "Every day, just about, I'm pleading my case." At one point, according to Costello, she was told she could expect to have power back by Friday (July 6); more recently, she added, she was told that AEP simply didn't know when she could expect to see restoration.

She added that she can't understand how the utility could restore power to almost her entire neighborhood and leave her and a few others without it.

"They did the neighborhood, but they didn't check on me," she noted. "I know it's a huge problem, but I just don't understand this kind of treatment… I'm very frustrated."

On the bright side, she said, friends and neighbors have been wonderful, offering lodging, ice and other forms of assistance. "They've really stepped up," she said. "So I'm very grumpy, but I'm very grateful."

A map published on AEP's website Sunday estimated that most sites left without power in Athens County would get it back by midnight Sunday, while a few would have to wait until midnight Monday.

THE HEAT WAS taking its toll last week, as the county slowly regained its electric hookup.

Dr. James Gaskell, medical director for the Athens City/County Health Department, said Friday his agency had been hearing anecdotally that the heat wave was sending some people to the hospital.

"From the reports I get, there have been a number of people appearing in the emergency room with heat exhaustion and heat complaints," Gaskell said. He had heard no reports as of Friday of cases of the more serious heat stroke, which "is much more likely to kill you." More susceptible to all heat-related complaints, he said, are the elderly, infants, and people with chronic health conditions.

The best defense, he warned, is to consume a lot of fluids – something with electrolytes such as Gatorade is best – and to watch yourself closely for symptoms, especially if you're working in the heat.

Beverages to not over-consume, he said, included caffeinated drinks and alcoholic drinks. "Wear light clothing," he suggested. "Get into the shade. Jump in the shower, go for a swim, but most important, lots of fluids."

Heat exhaustion can creep up on a person, he added. Early symptoms can include an elevated pulse and mental confusion.

There were "cooling stations" offered around the county to help people beat the heat, though by Friday, they were reporting reduced use.

Brandon Watson, who works in the information booth at Ohio University's Baker Center, said the cooling station there probably peaked for usage about mid-week.

"We did (see more people) toward the beginning (of the week), but as people started getting electricity back, it slowed down," he recalled.

Connie Mingus, a custodian at the city's Community Center, reported a similar pattern at that facility's cooling station.

Over the weekend and on Monday, she recalled, "we had quite a few people sitting around recharging," or using the center's showers. "It was never really crowded here, but it was nice that we could offer it."

She added that "I was glad to come to work, because I didn't have any (power)."

Nick Claussen, spokesman for the Athens County Department of Jobs and Family Services, said that agency's clientele was suffering from the power outage because when you're on food stamps and lose a refrigerator full of food, "people don't have the money to go out and replace it."

Claussen said Friday that his agency was looking into trying to get some supplemental short-term benefits to deal with this issue. The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Service has reportedly announced that it will make some added money available for food benefits to families in 34 Ohio counties including Athens because of the power outage.

Under such circumstances, people often rely more on local food banks. Reba Robinson of the Friends and Neighbors food bank in Lottridge said the organization had a generator to maintain refrigeration, so it was able to keep offering services.

"We do know that a lot of people have lost a lot of stuff," Robinson said, adding that Director Lisa Robinson has "got a list of people, so she's going to be able to get food to them." She predicted that at the food bank's next free meal Wednesday, "we will probably see a lot."


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