POTOMAC, Md. — Hundreds of thousands of people from Illinois to New Jersey are still without power after a line of deadly storms struck last Friday. A week of more unpredictable weather and sweltering temperatures has followed.
In West Virginia, the leader of the National Guard said he hadn’t seen a more widespread power outage in the state in decades. In Ohio, the chief of a major utility said the damage was worse than what was caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ike in 2008.
At least 27 people have been killed in the storms or their aftermath since Friday, not including deaths from heat-related causes.
Through it all, Americans have been getting by in their own ways, whether in the hollows of rural West Virginia or in the tony Maryland suburbs of the nation’s capital. Here are a few examples of how they’re doing it:
STILL PLUGGED IN
“We’re like squatters in our own house, aren’t we, Lilah?” Corey Phelps said playfully to her 2-year-old goldendoodle dog.
Their home in Potomac, Md., an upscale suburb dotted with multimillion-dollar homes, has been without power for six days. The 33-year-old Pilates instructor and her family have been using a portable generator to keep their refrigerator running and catching showers “like vagabonds — anywhere we can get one,” like at her gym and swim club.
Her daughter, who’s almost 13, has been using the generator keep her Nook e-reader and iTouch continuously charged.
A blowup mattress in the kitchen was serving as a makeshift bed, though she acknowledged that the heat inside her home could have been much worse.
“Probably the worst it’s been is like, 78 (degrees),” she said. “That’s literally because the house is made of stone. I mean, if we lived anywhere else, I doubt we’d have been as fortunate … ”
FENDING FOR THEMSELVES
Emma Kelly and her extended family in Fayette County, W.Va., didn’t expect their power and water service back until Sunday, after being knocked out last Friday.
But you won’t hear this resourceful West Virginian complain.
“I’m a holler girl,” she said. “We were raised in the hollers, in the ridges and the hills of West Virginia. We hunt, we fish, we grow gardens and we take care of ourselves.
“You can complain about it or make the best of it,” Kelly, 47, said Thursday as she fielded call after call as a 911 dispatcher.
Since the power went out, her family has hauled water up from a creek to flush toilets and taken the grandchildren down to the cool water for relief from the 90-degree heat. They made a cooking pit in the yard.
“Everybody’s trying to find ice, just to keep things cold,” Kelly said. She traded some fuel for a camper stove for ice with a neighbor.
She hasn’t hounded her power supplier, American Electric Power, with calls.
“They’re aware of it,” she said. “I’m used to being in the woods. I’m the last to be served. I’m OK.”
South of Washington in the Virginia suburb of Arlington, sweat glistened on Lidia Valdez’s forehead as she answered the door and wet hair clung to her cheeks. Inside, a dozen warm bottles of Corona beer sat on a countertop.
“We cannot find ice anymore,” said her husband, Walter Valdez. “We were preparing the beers to celebrate the Fourth of July, but that was not possible.”
The Valdezes were sweating through their seventh day without power, the result of a massive oak tree that fell across the street a few houses down, crushing a car and snapping a utility pole. The Bolivian natives said a week without air conditioning reminded them of trips to the Amazon in their native country.
“We are so desperate!” Lidia Valdez said. “We are taking cold water showers at midnight, in the morning. Three, four times a day.”
QUEST FOR POWER
The outage sparked a quest for Charlie Salisgiver, 63, a retired printer in Arlington, Va. When he saw the massive oak tree that snapped their power, he knew electricity wouldn’t be back for a while.
He set out to buy a generator, a search that took 12 hours and finally ended about 100 miles away at a Lowe’s store in Tappahannock.
When he got back, he ripped open the box and quickly found it didn’t work. He found another one at a store closer to his home. He’s had it running constantly since Sunday night. It can power a refrigerator, a freezer, an air-conditioning unit and a couple of lights.
“It’s like camping out. A little different,” he said. “You have to unplug the fridge and the freezer to use the washing machine.”
Salisgiver was quick to put their misfortune in perspective.
“We got the short straw, that’s all. For us here in this neighborhood, I don’t think anybody has suffered any particular health problems,” he said. “We shouldn’t be really complaining.”
A BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY
In Randallstown, Md., power cords were stretched across the street in Deanna Platt’s neighborhood.
“One side has it, one side doesn’t,” Platt said.
Platt’s 9-year-old son, Trevor, his cousin and a neighbor launched an impromptu business.
They propped a chalkboard up on the lawn, drew a picture of a snowball, and ran a power cord out to a table with an ice shaver and a half dozen bottles of syrup.
Platt said her sister, who lives nearby, hasn’t had power since Friday, but she never lost it, so family members have been stopping by.
“I’ve been like a place of refuge for my family. I’ve cooked a lot of meals for my sister,” Platt said.
Her brother, meanwhile, has a pool.
“We’ve just been grilling, making snowballs and jumping in the pool,” Platt said.
In Silver Spring, Md., another Washington suburb, real estate agent Paula Nerret, 60, was using her generator to keep her water running. Her two-acre property has an electric pump for well water.
The generator has enough juice for the pump, her refrigerator, some lights, a fan and TV and Internet. But she misses air conditioning the most, plus her iron.
“I’m a wrinkled mess,” Nerret said.
She’s been sleeping downstairs on her couch because it’s cooler. And she’s been keeping the shades closed.
Her power company, Pepco, initially told her power would be back Friday, then Saturday morning. Now it’s Sunday night.
“I’ve been obnoxious. I’ve probably called 10 times,” she said.
NEIGHBORS LOOKING OUT
In the Laurel Park neighborhood south of Clarksburg, W.Va., neighbors were helping neighbors.
Roscoe Bolyard, 78, has been sleeping in his basement, where it’s cooler. It felt a little like camping to him.
“The camping went on when I was a lot younger,” he said. “I’ve had enough of this kind of camping.”
He ran an extension cord from his generator to a neighbor’s house on Thursday to power their refrigerator and a small fan on the living room floor.
The neighbor, Joan Gawthrop, 74, has knee and foot problems and diabetes and has barely left her recliner for the past six days. “This is the worst it’s ever been and we’ve been here for 41 years,” she said. “I’m about to die.”
Her 75-year-old husband, Darrell, takes it more in stride. “We’re camping. It’s just camping out, really,” he said.
“We didn’t lose water and we’ve got food,” he said. “There’s people that got it worse than we do.”
Vicki Smith contributed from Morgantown, W.Va. Associated Press Writers Steve Szkotak in Richmond, Va., Jessica Gresko in Washington, Alex Dominguez in Randallstown, Md., and Ben Nuckols in Arlington, Va., contributed to this report.