Sunday, November 29, 2015

And Then There was Light: Windstorm 2015, Part 5

NOTE: Avista Utilities worked around the clock from the evening of Tuesday, November 17th thru Friday, November 27th to restore power after the windstorm. This is Part 5 of a five-part journal about our 6-day experience without power. 

Monday, November 23, approximately 4:00 pm

We bring home our new heater. We lug the propane tank upstairs. It feels weird to have it in the house. We read the heater’s instructions and proceed step-by-step. After we push the IGNITE button, nothing happens. It’s currently about 47 degrees in hour home. With snow and dropping temperatures in the forecast, it will probably drop below 45 degrees tonight. One thing we’ve learned, every degree counts.

We re-read the instructions. There’s no reason to panic because the pilot didn’t light. We just need to keep trying it until it catches. On the third try it does. We’ve place the heater in the part of the house where we’ve been hanging out the most. It’s the smaller heater and specs to heat a 200 sq. foot area. It's going to take awhile.

Monday, November 23, approximately 5:30pm

I head down to the most freezing part of our home to feed cats and meditate.

Situated on my meditation bench, wearing my now-usual several layers of clothes and coat and mittens, I close my eyes. I hear a low rumble. My eyes flutter open. I see lights out the window. Yellow and flashing. Probably an EMT vehicle, not uncommon in our neighborhood, as there is a long-term care facility on our block. I close my eyes.

What if it’s not an ambulance?

I jump up and run out the door in my socks. The truck is driving very slowly down the wrong side of the street. I think I recognize the Avista logo on the side panel. But it’s quite dark, so I’m not sure. I tear down the sidewalk, waving my arms. After I’ve passed a house, it stops.

I run up, out of breath and overexcited.

The two men inside are quite approachable. I blurt out: “Are you here to fix our power?”

Not exactly.

But they pull over anyway.

Two more trucks, also with flashing yellow lights, turn the corner and line up with their headlights facing the truck that just stopped.
One of the trucks is enormous, with a motorized bucket. Men start vacating the vehicles and follow me through our neighbor’s unfenced yard. I point out the downed tree. One of the linemen flashes a light at my feet. I’m standing on a cable. But it’s so thin, I hadn’t noticed. He tells me to move. I jump back. He follows the swirl of wire with his light. I keep back.

The men are talking among themselves, sweeping their high-powered lights up and down the line. I can’t make much sense of what they’re saying. Really, all I want to know is: Can they fix whatever is wrong?

Kernels of emotion: hope, excitement, fear ping through my like popcorn in a popper as I wait for their verdict.

Their assessment: “We can get this done in less than an hour.”

I want to jump up and down like a gameshow contestant, instead I just beam. After more than 144 hours w/out power an hour is a snap of the fingers. I’m ecstatic, overjoyed, praising whatever benevolent powers exist in the universe.

They drive the biggest truck in through the opening in the yard. Right up to where that downed tree is laying on the wire. Enormous lights are rigged and they get to work.
I don’t want to get in their way, but I’m on a natural high and that always makes me chatty. This particular crew has been working 3 pm to 7:30 am shifts since Tuesday night. They’ll keep working those hours until all the power is restored. They’ve already been told they’ll be working on Thanksgiving. I don’t envy them, but I’m immensely grateful for what they’re doing. Many of them have been going home to their own cold homes at the end of their long double-shifts.

Watching them work is fascinating. They’re very focused and seem to have no doubt about what they’re doing. They’re working on the tree and two different poles, including the main one around the corner. By this point, I’m running in and out of our house, updating my husband. I watch out my back window to stay out of their way. I want to do something to show my gratitude. However, we don’t have much in the house. We cleaned all the spoiled food from our refrigerator and freezer the night before.

I examine our pantry and round up two containers of Trader Joes chocolate almonds. Maybe they’d make a good snack later in the evening. I grab them along with (hopefully) enough small bottles of water for everyone working, and throw it in a bag. I take it out to where they’re working.

My heart feels really happy when they see what I’ve brought. The water seems to be welcome and they open one of the containers of almonds and start passing it around.

I force myself to go back inside and wait.

After about half-an-hour, they’ve pulled out from the neighbor’s back yard and the whole crew has relocated around the corner. Once again, the bucket has been raised and a technician is working on the box. A groan soon follows.

My heart plummets.

They’d turned on the power and down the line a spark flared.

They have to move the trucks farther down our street, to the neighbor on the other side. Again, the crew shines their lights, scanning up and down the lines. This time, even though they can drive the larger truck with the bucket onto the lot, there are too many structures: a garage, a trailer, a shed, and trees, around the pole for them to use it.

Two linemen shimmy up the pole and get to work.

At first, I plant myself on the corner of my garage. But the moon is out, and I see an opportunity for a great picture. I walk over again and after making sure I won’t be in the way, I get as close to the pole as I can. I got this great shot, that I shared on Twitter that night.
Then the magic moment came.

Perhaps it seems like a small thing among the disasters, horrors, and problems in our world. But that’s not how it felt. It felt huge. I wanted to grab every single one of those guys and give them a huge hug; I refrained. I just thanked them and shared my gratitude on Twitter.

Inside my home, the lights actually felt disorienting. After six nights, I’d gotten used to candlelight and flashlight. It felt odd to have whole rooms without darkness. But the hum of the heater, oh, that was a beautiful sound.

Since we had no food, we bundled up for one more meal out. It would give the house time to warm up.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015, approximately 7 am

There’s snow on the ground, not too much. It’s beautiful. With the heat running in our home, I can appreciate it. But I’m well aware that at least 20,000 people remain without power. My thoughts and prayers go out to them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015, approximately 12 pm

Driving around town, there seems to be a utility truck on every corner. It’s a welcome sight. Fewer and fewer homes remain without power.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Power has been restored to all homes and business in our city.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

It’s a funny thing, the ripple effect of this kind of situation. I spoke more with (and met more of) my neighbors during the power outage than in all the prior years. In our effort to seek heat during the day, I connected with some of the most interesting people in the coffee shops, gym, and restaurants. The conversations were fascinating and rich. I was left with a greater sense of connection with this city and the people who live here.

I also feel a deep sense of gratitude to everyone at Avista. They worked around the clock, in temperatures that were often below freezing, for ten days to return power to every home and business in the city. No small feat. It took longer—two weeks—to restore electricity to less people after the Ice Storm in 2009.

Almost a week later, my heart is still floating in my chest, and I’m walking around smiling, wanting to hear everyone’s story of: How long was your power out? How did you get through it?

One man showed us pictures of a friend’s home. A tree had literally smashed through the roof, leaving a gaping hole. A woman had been in the next room when the tree fell. I can’t imagine what that would have been like. Fortunately, she suffered no injuries.

Among all the stories, ours is a milder one. But we all have this in common: We survived the Windstorm of 2015. And it was something.

The Storm Hits, Windstorm 2015, Part 1
The First Night, Windstorm 2015, Part 2
Electricity Envy, Windstorm 2015, Part 3
The Hunt for a Heater, Windstorm 2015, Part 4