Sheets of ice

Winter arrived to the Raleigh, North Carolina, area Wednesday afternoon as storms delivered sheets of ice that sent trees falling across streets and power lines.

At the Pearce home front, numerous trees snapped in half or fell altogether due to the weight of the ice. Four fell across our driveway while three others took a dip in our lake. Dad and I spent Thursday clearing limbs so that our house can gain access with the main road.

We are also left without power or water. Since our house is well-driven, no power also means no water. The phone lines, however, are intact.

On Thursday evening, dad and I ventured out to find a warm meal. Much of the city, however, was still in the dark. We eventually found a Burger King that had power. Unfortunately, so did everyone else, for it took us 25 minutes just to get through the line, which weaved throughout the entire restaurant.

After dinner, the family played cards by candlelight while huddled around the woodstove for warmth.

Friday morning (this morning) was still without electricity, heat, or water. Knowing that my grandmother in a nearby retirement community would likely have her electricity restored by now, we drove over for warm showers and a little warmth.

Despite the cold conditions, the last few days reminded me of what life was like in Guyana. Power there was usually available, but it would cut on and off throughout the week as random blackouts would occur. Water, however, was less predictable, for it would turn on only twice a day.

Unlike Guyana, however, our current conditions are only temporary, for in a matter of days, power, heat, water, Internet access, and life in general will return to normal. So normal, that by next week, we will be taking these modern-day luxuries for granted once again.

Here?s a local news story covering our current conditions:
Power out for 500,000
Photos found here

About a half million Triangle homes and businesses still lacked power Friday morning, after falling tree branches overnight created new outages as fast as utility crews could restore the old ones.

Power crews hope that sun and warming temperatures will give them the upper hand Friday. But new outages are possible, as tree branches shed their ice and snap back into power lines, said Mike Hughes, spokesman for CP&L.

“We would expect the numbers to fluctuate throughout the day,” Hughes said.

About 347,000 CP&L customers in the Triangle were without power at 8 a.m. The company had about 1,400 people working to remove tree limbs and restore power, including crews from nine states, Hughes said.

Duke Power reported 109,000 customers in Durham and 39,000 in Chapel Hill still lacked electricity as of 6 a.m. In all more than 1 million Duke Power customers were without power in the Carolinas.

Both utilities say it could be several days before everyone has electricity again.

Across North Carolina, the state Highway Patrol responded to about 800 traffic accidents in 24 hours, Gov. Mike Easley’s office said. Four people died in crashes. One state trooper was injured in Wilkes County while responding to an accident.

Schools and universities were closed; local governments including Raleigh, Durham County and Chapel Hill declared states of emergency, and power was out even in about 30 prisons.

Schools in Durham, Johnston, Orange and Wake counties and the Chapel Hill- Carrboro system will remain closed today.

Duke Power officials called the ice storm the worst their company had ever experienced. Just over half of the company’s 2.1 million customers in North and South Carolina were without electricity. More than 450,000 CP&L customers lost power.

“We’re going to make a lot of headway tonight and tomorrow, but we want customers to be realistic that we may still be restoring power as late as Sunday,” said Keith Poston of CP&L.

Key commuter routes, including Interstate 40, were free of ice by Thursday morning, but many residential streets remained slick after temperatures nosed just above freezing. Forecasters said side streets still would be dangerous this morning because temperatures were expected to fall into the mid-20s Thursday night.

The real thaw will be today, said meteorologist Richard Jones of the National Weather Service’s Raleigh office. The cloud cover was expected to lift and temperatures to rise into the lower 40s. Clear skies and gradual warming were expected for the weekend, with highs reaching the lower 50s by Sunday.

Power outages, downed trees and icy roads forced Durham County officials to establish a curfew until 6 a.m. today.

Durham’s state of emergency proclamation also prohibited alcohol sales and limited drinking to private homes. It barred gun sales and banned anyone except law enforcement officers from carrying a weapon outside.

For Triangle residents, the thousands of shattered trees — some blocking roads, others creasing roofs — evoked Hurricane Fran in September 1996, when falling trees left hundreds of thousands of homes without power, some for more than a week.

‘Worse than Fran’

“To say that there are a lot of trees down is the ultimate understatement of the year,” said Lt. Tim Pressley of the Chapel Hill Police Department. “This is worse than Fran.”

One difference: It was warm then. On Thursday, Durham, Orange and Wake counties, and Raleigh opened overnight emergency shelters for those without power.

For some, the realization dawned late that they could be without power for days rather than hours. Modupe B. Hassan of Durham’s Breckenridge subdivision started a mad search Thursday afternoon for some way to generate heat, stopping at hardware stores, drugstores — any place that was open.

At a True Value hardware store at Woodcraft, she was turned away again. No heaters.

Hassan threw up her arms.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said. “I guess I’ll just put three or four more blankets on me and then pray. It’s the best I can do.”

The lucky few who found heaters for sale had another hurdle: the kerosene shortage.

On Durham’s Hillsborough Road, dozens of motorists — brand new kerosene heaters in their back seats — waited to buy kerosene at a Texaco station. Little did they know the station had run out.

Vincent Allen, a 44-year-old Durham resident, parked his car and walked to the front of the line, where he discovered that he had been wasting his time. Like others, Allen was frustrated. He had already waited in line at another gas station — only to reach the pump at the moment the station lost power.

Others set out to help their neighbors. In one heavily forested northern Chapel Hill neighborhood, two men with a chainsaw took it upon themselves to clear nearly a mile of road.

“We don’t have any electricity, so we don’t have anything better to do,” said Roger Wiseman, 45.

Wiseman, who works at a bookshop, and handyman Mike Massey, 42, left their home at 7:30 a.m. to start clearing their own street, and when they finished, they just kept going. They sawed and pulled aside limbs and trunks that blocked the road every 75 yards or so.

Three hours later, they were still at it, legs plastered with wet sawdust, working their way south on Shady Lawn Road.

The extent of the damage caught many by surprise.

With forecasters calling for a half inch of ice, CP&L officials said, they thought they could weather the storm without help. But by mid-day up to an inch of ice was dragging down trees and power lines, and the company had sent word to utility crews in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Florida and Virginia.

Reinforcements on call

CP&L, whose main North Carolina service area stretches from Wake County east, expected 900 outside workers to arrive by Thursday night, on top of 900 of its own people. Duke Power, dominant in the west part of North Carolina, also imported help, from 18 utilities in eight states.

All day Thursday, power crews struggled to get the upper hand as tree limbs continued to crash down. Between midnight and noon, CP&L workers restored power to 200,000 customers, but watched the outages mount until well after dawn.

“We just haven’t been able to catch up,” said spokeswoman Julie Hans.”We restored power all night long, but other customers lost power at the same time.”

Crews concentrated on lines feeding hospitals, nursing homes and other customers who need electricity to power life-support systems, such as dialysis machines. They targeted major transmission lines first, then worked down through smaller lines and substations to neighborhoods.

People who lost a power line on their property will likely be without power for two or three days, said Hans.

“Those are going to be the last ones,” she said.