Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Miracle of Fossil Fuels

Enjoy the latest press release from Jackson Purchase Energy here. Of their 30,000 customers, 22,000 continue without electricity. I found this section of the release particularly alarming:

Those customers with service lines that have been pulled from their home will need to contact an electrician before JPEC can restore power. Customers should also check with their electrician as to what equipment will be needed from JPEC such as new meters, etc. A complete list of equipment needed from JPEC by your electrician will expedite service at JPEC. To further help getting customers and electricians meter bases and hubs, JPEC’s corporate office will be open from 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. today and on Sunday.

I'll leave it to you to do the math on how easily any one of us without power can locate or secure the services of an electrician (or even make a phone call) at this time as well as imagine just how many of us have had power lines that have been "pulled from our home" considering the amount and magnitude of the branches that have fallen. So, yah, after our handy electrician shows up and we type up our neat little lists, I'd say conservatively maybe 10,000 of them, we'll just be getting our power back! Yay!

I've no doubt that the utility is overwhelmed, however, this doesn't seem the time, after many have endured 5 days without power in freezing temperatures, to start putting out chirpy little releases about "calling your electrician" and "making lists". This would seem the time to call in more reinforcements, FEMA, etc. to do what it takes. As difficult and as enormous as the task must seem, it is what it is.

I remain without power and made contact with my more rurally located relatives just last night. At that time, all but one was without electricity (and there are lots of them). Now today, one more cousin has had service restored.

The miraculous appearance of the kerosene heater provided by our generous neighbors yesterday brought into sharp focus the immediate need for kerosene. And thus began yesterday's odyssey.

First, an aside: I've amused myself by likening my situation to some of my favorite movies since this nightmare began, the first of which that sprang to mind was Gone With the Wind, since the destruction immediately after the storm reminded me of scenes of Sherman's march to the sea through the Atlanta countryside. Like Tara, my house is still here (It's still there!). Once the thrill of just having a roof over my head that ISN'T demolished (and some in my family are not so lucky) wore off, I began drawing immediate parallels to Dr. Zhivago and Yuri and Lara's winter in Siberia--remember? How Yuri would brush the snow off his tablet--indoors at his desk--so he could write his poems? Yah. I felt that cold.

Yesterday, however, I think I settled on what will turn out to be the true movie parallel--the old Mad Max movie series. If you're unfamiliar, it's a sci-fi trilogy of films about a post-apocalyptic world where rag tag bunches of survivors (including Mel Gibson) scour the desert-like country side in pieced together jalopies in search of but one thing: fuel.

Yesterday? I was Beyond Thunderdome.

Once I realized the crucial need for kerosene to maintain the cozy warmth my Mom and stepdad had only begun to enjoy, I soon realized there wasn't any to be had in Paducah, nor in the surrounding counties or cities. I was told by an authority that the closest such fuel was in Rosiclaire, IL or Paris, TN. I elected to go north and now realizing just how widespread the shortage was, immediately took to the interstate. My first stop, Marion, IL proved to be fruitless and I was told my best bet was Mt. Vernon (a customer in Marion told me there wasn't kerosene to be had south at all for at least 150 miles). I pressed on toward the kerosene Shamgri La a full 100 miles away from Paducah, enjoying a delightful conversation with my Grandmother on the way on my cell phone which immediately sprang to life once I cleared the disaster zone by about 20 miles or so. Grandma lives in the So. Illinois countryside and I was passing so close to her house that I had to call.

You may be wondering by now why we didn't just all load up and escape Paducah all together. It is certainly possible. What makes this difficult are the furry members of the family. Isabelle and Tallulah and Mom's dog, Dudley, are a bit difficult to just load in the car and go, though we've considered it, believe me. I can't imagine the heartbreak of the Katrina victims who were forced to choose to leave their pets behind. It's a choice I'm not sure I could make. My fur babies have never left my side since their adoptions, I am compelled to show them the same courtesy. It hasn't been a question, really.

In any case, I reached Mt. Vernon without incident but then embarked on a wild goose chase being directed to first one service station, then another, that didn't actually sell kerosene. Station number five was remote and lucky and when the answer was "yes" to my query about kerosene, I was almost disbelieving. Not being a mountain girl or having lived a second of my life off the grid, my next dilemma was, where is it? Looking at me like I was crazy, the attendant pointed to a tiny gas tank, identical to the others but much smaller. This, then, was the elusive kerosene dispenser. I had become so intent on locating the stuff, that I'd forgotten to stop and secure containers in which to transport it. I bought the two gallon gas cans they had on hand, filled them, then located a nearby Auto Zone and bought two five gallon containers and filled those. Thus loaded with twelve gallons of liquid gold (I began to refer to myself as "Sparky"), I headed to the nearest Kroger where I was amazed to find life continuing as per usual. I was overwhelmed by normalcy and choices, but managed to have the presence of mind to stock up on candles and instant coffee and food that doesn't require cooking.

It was eerie to return to Paducah after dark; the exits lit up like Christmas trees but the neighborhoods still silent and mostly shrouded in darkness. We're experiencing a warming trend, thank God, and this caused thick fog to rise from the devastated landscape of my neighborhood as I drove my precious cargo into the driveway. Because it's me, I had to shut off the car and stare into the ghostly fog and think for a moment of another movie: Beware the moors.
And then I unloaded my car.


Mary Thorsby said...

Suzanne, your recaps are amazing. I feel for you!!!! xoxoxoxomt

J Patrick Kerr said...

I would be happy to talk to you personally about why an electrician is necessary and I welcome your call. In short, without an electrician checking your service you run the risk of fire or damage to your home when service is restored.
As for "The List" it is likely one or two items and one piece of information - what size service you have.
Again, I would be happy to talk to you personally.
My contact information is available on the press release you are quoting.
Thank you so much for your patience as we work to restore service and I hope we can continue to count on your understanding.
J. Patrick Kerr
JPEC Corporate Communications

J Patrick Kerr said...

As for reinforcements - we are working closely with city and county EMS and they are working with FEMA and the state. We have more than 150 guest workers from outside the state here to help restore service and have more on the way.
That was included in the release as well and I find it interesting that you did not include that.

Bruce Gardner said...

I wish I had had so little confidence in the ability of the power company to restore juice to my house to venture to another state to buy a heater and other sudden necessities.

I, however, remained confident that the power genies would appear and that electricity would once again flow.

I am glad I live in the city instead of the country, where it could take a week to get power back. OK, it is a week very soon. Day 6 of power held hostage is half over already and no PPS crews are in sight. Can't say where they are other than in someone else's neighborhood.

So, last night, I surrendered to the cold and moved to a hotel. I wish I had gone shopping instead!

Ah, optimism!

Anonymous said...

Your posts about the storm are great. I hope you are restored with wonderful electricity soon!

PS That J. Patrick Kerr is a snarky one.

Suzanne said...

JPK: I wouldn't think of contacting you personally at a time like this I can only imagine how overwhelmed you must be. My comments are not directed at you but rather in general about the unrealistic nature of the suggestion of an electrician when so many are overwhelmed with the struggle to stay warm and procure the fuel necessary to do that (myself included). If you'll read down my earlier posts, you'll see that I did post about seeing the trucks and reinforcements on the very first day I was able to leave my house after the storm. I am aware of how hard JPEC is working; my suggestion with the comments in my post is, if anything, that the company needs more help and should plan on going beyond what is normal given the extent of the damage.