It has been two weeks since our area was hit by ice and heavy wet snow. Many residents were shivering and sitting in the dark for nearly a week. Along with the misery, there were stories of everyday heroism and neighborliness.
First, I have to give a shout-out to utility crews from other states who drove many hours to lend a hand. Yes, power companies may have mutual-aid agreements in place, but seeing them in action will make your heart swell just a little.
A week ago, some five days into the emergency, there were lines of Altec trucks queued up on the side streets of South Bethlehem. The sight was a little shocking because we didn’t lose power for more than an hour or so early on the morning of Friday, Nov. 16. My brother and I were on our way to his monthly eye appointment, and there was no time to investigate.
After returning home that afternoon, the Altec crews were still laboring away near the sharp bend of Route 839, known as Putneyville Road or Beautiful Lookout Road depending on who you talk to. They were nearly done for the day, the sun setting, their feet dragging. I took a chance on flagging down one man who appeared to be the head guy.
It turned out that he and his crew had driven down from Connecticut to help with the recovery effort. I don’t know how long they had been in our area or how long it took them to get here.
“It has been a looong day,” the boss said. One of too many in a row, I’ll bet. He managed one of those professional 100-watt smiles, but the blank faces of his crew told the real story.
As promised, I want to recognize the men from Connecticut for coming to our aid. There were many other out-of-state crews, but these guys were the ones I talked to personally.
Needless to say, the same “thank you” goes out to all power crews from FirstEnergy, West Penn and the United and Central electric cooperatives who logged lots of cold and wet hours of overtime.
Second, our emergency responders are the best. They were busy for several days dealing with downed trees, wrecked vehicles and the usual slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
Somehow, many fire halls opened as warming centers for cold hungry people. I’ll probably forget to include at least one of them, but Distant, Hawthorn, Limestone Township, Dayton, Sugarcreek and Parker were at the top of the list. They didn’t do this for one day but for several.
In the same vein, a few area churches opened their doors as warming shelters if they had power. There’s a better than even chance that they fed anyone who showed up, too.
A few hotels in the Clarion area offered accommodations at a reduced rate for people with nowhere else to go. I suspect that area assistance agencies helped out monetarily.
Third, state Rep. Donna Oberlander and her area offices did an outstanding job of relaying information from utility companies to residents affected by the days-long outage.
While she was swamped with requests for aid and information on social media, Donna took the time to respond to as many as she possibly could. She couldn’t wave a magic wand to turn the lights on, but it helped knowing that somebody listened, cared and was doing something.
Here at Chez Native, perched on the side of a hill in South Side, there were few problems. The house was a little chilly on Friday morning and my Internet blinked for a couple of minutes as I tried to beat a deadline. It was only then that I realized that we had a big problem on our hands.
It is at times like this that the Internet becomes a valuable tool rather than a place to fight over politics or post pictures of adorable dogs. And cell phones are more than annoying devices that people stare at instead of having a dinner conversation.
Utility companies’ websites were updated regularly, providing outage maps and general estimates of when the lights would come on. Friends checked on friends, relaying information on who had power and who didn’t. A friend in Butler County, probably one of the best-prepared people I know, was on generator power and communicated via cell phone because the weather had taken down his ham radio antenna.
Which kind of gives some of us pause. One of ham radio’s mottoes is “When all else fails.” Even it can fail under certain circumstances. This is why it is a good idea to remember the Rule of Three.
What is the Rule of Three?
Have three ways to communicate, three ways to heat and light your home, three ways to provide safe drinking water and three ways to warm food. The list goes on and can be applied to nearly anything that makes our way of life possible and reasonably comfortable.
Right now, Christmas shopping is in full swing. If you are stumped about what to buy for that person who seems to have everything, there’s a good chance that he or she doesn’t have three ways to do something.
A propane heater with several fuel bottles would make a good gift. So would a couple battery- or solar-power lanterns. A case of ready-to-eat chunky soup might be a good donation for a local food pantry.
As I file this column, bad weather is bearing down on our area again. It could be a long winter, so now is a good time to stock up.
[Susan Kerr is a semi-retired freelance writer living in her hometown of New Bethlehem. Previously, she was the managing editor of a regional-interest magazine and a business journal in State College.]