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Lack of power, freezing temperatures taking a toll on many Michigan families

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

There are still an estimated 29,300 customers without power in Michigan today (Saturday) after a major ice storm last weekend. The lack of power and freezing temperatures are beginning to take their toll on many families.

Sara Scott, her husband and their three-year-old son have been staying at her in-laws since Monday. She says her husband is worried that the pipes are going to freeze or that someone’s going to break into their home in Lansing. Plus, she’s two months pregnant.

“It’s such a stressful time of year already and then to not even be able to go home and recuperate -- it’s tough. I don’t want to be a whiner, but we’ve all just been complete wrecks,” Scott said, “I’m just exhausted beyond belief and my little boy just wants to go home and play with his toys and sleep in his own bed.”

Like many who shared their power outage nightmare, Scott says she sees on Lansing’s Board of Water and Light’s Facebook page that there are other people who are probably worse off.

“There’s a lady who's 20 weeks pregnant, someone with a newborn. Someone’s been out since the 21st and they haven’t even seen a utility truck. So nobody know if they’re even giving us the real numbers. I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist but there’s a lot of people who still seem to be in trouble,” Scott said.

Scott only gets a busy signal when she calls the public utility that serves her home. So while officials say they expect most areas will have power by the end of this weekend, she actually has no idea when her power will be restored.

On Saturday morning, BWL spokesman Stephen Serkaian said additional line crews are coming from across Michigan to Lansing to assist in power restoration efforts.

 Yevgeniy Umnov returned from a two-week vacation in Florida last Sunday to find their home in Lansing without power. Wires and tree branches were everywhere. Candles, flashlights and generators were all already sold out. Within a few days, about 40 of his fish had died.

“One of them that was lost was over eight years old. I know it’s just fish, but it’s pretty grim,” Umnov said.

Still, Umnov has been able to take hot showers and get a cup of coffee at his mom’s house nearby.

“My delivery guy said he hasn’t slept for six days, between delivering firewood and losing his livestock. He’s a farmer. It hasn’t been pretty but it definitely could be worse,” Umnov said, “I certainly feel for someone who’s elderly, who doesn’t have access to warm showers, laundry and a fireplace even – you know that really saved me.”

Sam Burke is a Consumers Energy customer who lives on a small farm near the Lansing airport. He’s been searching for and hauling 20 gallons of water each day to provide for his three horses.

“My biggest concern now are the pipes freezing as I have hot water baseboard heat, with all pipes being on outside walls,” Burke said in an email.

“After 6 days of this I am really beginning to feel the toll that this is taking on me, as I am not a young man anymore. I manage to get three hours of sleep per night, with it being so cold in the house. But I cannot just pack a bag and leave; the animals depend on me to take care of them. Checked the fridge and freezer yesterday and everything is thawed and will have to be tossed, if they ever pick up my full garbage can which has not been picked up this week, just add it to the list. I feel like I live in Alaska …off the grid. Don’t know how much more of this I can endure….but God only gives us what we can handle, and what does not kill us only makes us stronger,” Burke wrote.

Others have had to stay for days on end in hotels.

Lyn Sutton came to visit her parents in Delta Township from Indianapolis for a few days around Christmas. But they’ve been at a hotel in Brighton with their three dogs.

“I’m a little surprised with them being so suburban that they don’t have power,” Sutton said. At first the hotel stay wasn’t so bad, but “the walls are starting to close in on day six,” Sutton laughed.

She says the hotel is full of people with no power. “We all kind of celebrate as somebody else gets to leave. But actually some new people showed up yesterday saying they just couldn’t take the cold anymore and they had finally given up.”

Luckily, Sutton had a bunch of hotel points to cover the cost so far, although she says the hotel has offered people without power a discounted rate.

Robin Miner-Swartz, another Lansing resident, says grilling Christmas dinner with the family a few days ago wasn’t that bad.

“It actually was a whole lot of fun opening presents by candlelight. It was just a good memorable evening. But that’s kind of where the fun ended for us,” Miner-Swartz said.

At day six with no power, Miner-Swartz says she’s losing her patience because she isn’t seeing much progress, and hasn’t heard anything from the power company.

“My partner is home sick and it’s just like this week has been a ridiculous holding pattern for us in every sense of the word,” she said.

Miner-Swartz is thankful for the crews hard at work but is “extremely frustrated” with the top officials for what she calls their lack of communication. She and others say Facebook posts, particularly on neighborhood association pages, have been a “lifeline” of communication.

Consumers Energy, Detroit Edison and Lansing’s public utility say most of the power should be restored by this weekend. But there have been people who said they were told they wouldn’t get power back on until Monday.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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