Snapshots by Gloria Freeland -- Jan. 11, 2008

Let there be light -- and heat!

Freezing rain on the night of Dec. 10 deposited half an inch or more of ice on trees, fences and power lines, sending thousands of Kansas households into darkness. Our home in Keats and a rental home we own in Manhattan were among those without power for several days.

The next day, we drove around Manhattan to see what the storm had done. We were also trying to find an open restaurant and fill the car with gas. Few eating places were open, but we found Vista doing a brisk business. After breakfast, we located a filling station where the pumps were working.

Brother Dave, who lives in Salina, said it was like "the last days on earth," referring to science fiction movies he's seen. "It was so dark, and there wasn't a sound when I went into the house - no hum of the refrigerator, no furnace kicking in."

It was the same with us. Without electricity, we had no light, no kitchen stove, no microwave, no power to operate the well pump, no heat, no telephone and no TV. Even our cell phones went down for awhile when area towers were knocked out.

"It's like a Stephen King novel," youngest daughter Katie commented.

"Yeah, Storm of the Century," piped up her big sister Mariya.

Art and I spent two nights at home, using the fireplace for heat and candles for light. We had some wood in the garage, but not nearly enough to keep a fire going for long. So, with flashlight in hand, we trudged through ice and snow to the back of the house, where we had a pile of wood. The pieces were all frozen together, so we dislodged several with a few swift kicks and took them inside to thaw next to the fireplace.

I proclaimed it all an "adventure." That was the first night. But by the second night, I knew I wouldn't have made a very good pioneer woman. Although I grew up in a farm home with no central heat and only two propane-powered space heaters, waking up to a 43-degree house is just not my idea of fun.

The ice storm played havoc with school and sports schedules, holiday parties and programs, Christmas preparations and even final exams at K-State. Still, I was amazed at how well we and others coped. Many people bought generators. Others depended on "warming" centers in Manhattan or at Riley County High School. Friends who have an earthen home put oil lamps on both sides of their bed and played cards. Another friend said it was "cool" to live based on the simple rhythm of when the sun comes up and goes down.

Having an engineer husband came in handy too. Art taped three D-cell batteries and a Christmas tree lamp together and, along with two wires, charged his cell phone battery. He also bought a $15 inverter, which he plugged into the cigarette lighter of his car. He ran an extension cord into his work place and was able to power a small light, operate a soldering iron and run his laptop computer with it. His cousin Claudia joked that he was the only person she'd ever heard of to power a computer through a cigarette lighter.

Several times, Art and I drove around the county, taking pictures of the ice-encased trees, fences and power lines. Although the sight was stunningly beautiful, the damage to trees and property was heart-breaking. Trees were splintered, power poles were cracked and homes and vehicles were damaged by ice-laden branches. Many areas looked like a tornado had come through, shearing off the tops of trees.

But help arrived in the form of convoys of tree-removal trucks and phone and power company vehicles that moved methodically up and down city streets and county roads. One crew, whose members had driven all night from Indiana, was checking out lines on Kitten Creek Road when we stopped to thank them. They were among hundreds of workers from 21 states who had traveled to Kansas to help out.

Four days after the storm, we sat in our car along the edge of Anderson Avenue to watch a crew replace a power pole. They were about a mile from our home. Maybe we'd have electricity soon! We didn't want to get our hopes up so we spent that night in town. But the next morning, when Art called our home, the answering machine picked up. Hallelujah! We had power!

We had been fortunate compared to many. Mom was without power for only part of one day so our girls stayed there two nights and we all took our daily showers there.

It was all a bit inconvenient, what with happening right before Christmas and all, but a friend of Mariya's said it best, "We don't need presents! We have heat and light!"

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