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Mass power outages leave vulnerable residents in danger

A contractor from Consumers Energy tries to restore power in Grand Rapids.
Dustin Dwyer

Extreme weather has now left more than 800,000 Michiganders across the state without power. The outages started on the west side of the state late Tuesday night, and spread across to the east and southeast parts of the state Wednesday.

While power outages are an inconvenience for many people, they are a danger to vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or people without housing.

In Grand Rapids, the low-income senior housing apartment Delaware Heights & Manor didn't have power, or air conditioning, since Tuesday night. It was restored midday Thursday.

A manager at the residence says they had generators to keep the elevators going, but nothing else. She says it’s up to Consumers Energy to restore power, and that no other agencies in town have reached out to help residents.

Many residents gathered outside the building, clearly upset and potentially vulnerable as the day got hotter.

Delaware Manor & Heights
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Delaware Manor & Heights has been without power since Tuesday.

Roy Barton says he was stuck in his apartment Wednesday night before the power was restored on Thursday. He's a double-amputee, and is wheelchair-bound. 

"I just got out from the third floor," he said Thursday afternoon, before the power came back on. "I was stuck up there because I couldn't get down the steps. And I think that's ridiculous. They should have someone over here to help us older people that don't have the ability to get around on our own." 

Another resident, Odis Ross, was concerned about the residents on oxygen tanks.

"There's just a lot of back and forth, and nothing being done, and the attitude that some people have.... We got people here on oxygen and stuff like that, and there's nothing being done about it," he said, before power was ultimately restored.

Directly behind Delaware Heights & Manor, a tree crew contracted through Consumers Energy worked to clear branches from the tree that reportedly caused the outage. A few hours later, they were successful.

Delaware Heights & Manor is just one of the 350,000 Michigan homes and businesses to which Consumers is responsible for restoring power. Consumers says this week's storms rank among the 10 largest in company history based on total customer outages. The company is set to give an update on the restoration timeline Thursday afternoon.

A number of Michigan cities, including Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, and Westland, opened cooling centers to help residents. Anyone who needs assistance can call 2-1-1 to find out about available resources in their area.

You can also see if your community is offering a cooling center or other help as many remain without power by reviewing this Twitter list of tweets from local governments. 

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Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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