The power of patience

  • Brooke Fisher<br>Enterprise editor
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 11:24am

Mary Flake is able to heat water over her gas stove, but has an electric coffee maker. Her neighbor has a French press coffee maker, but isn’t able to heat water. They’re a perfect combination when there’s no electricity.

Sharing resources is the way of life in Flake’s Lake Forest Park neighborhood as she and others continued to cope with no electricity on Tuesday, five days after losing electricity late on Thursday evening, Dec. 14, due to a severe wind storm.

Flake, who resides on the east side of the city, at 193rd Street and 53rd Avenue Northeast, wasn’t giving in to the idea of staying with friends or paying for a hotel room. Rather, she decided to tough it out in her own home with her dog and cats. Many of her neighbors also remained home.

“People are coming over at nighttime to sit in front of the fire,” said Flake. “It’s not horrible; it’s just bad camping.”

Flake has a gas stove where neighbors come to heat water for oatmeal and coffee in the morning. And a neighbor across the street with a gas water heater has invited Flake and other neighbors to shower at her home.

Small acts of kindness abound, said Flake. A newlywed couple across the street brought over hand warmers just the other day. And when Flake mentioned that she couldn’t find any batteries for her lantern, an employee at the Northshore Fire Department gave her four batteries.

“I keep in touch with everybody,” said Flake, who is “pseudo retired” and is blockwatch captain in her neighborhood. “I called people who I knew were alone.”

With a full-size freezer in her garage that’s full of food, Flake hopes she’ll be able to salvage some of it. Until her kitchen refrigerator works, she’s brought a small cooler inside to store perishable food.

“I’ve been sleeping in thermal underwear, two pairs of socks and a beanie, for crying out loud,” said Flake, who also put an extra comforter on her bed.

As of Tuesday, Flake heard from a neighbor, who talked to Seattle City Light staff, that it would be several days still before the neighborhood got electricity. An estimated 1,700 homes in the city were still without power on Tuesday, according to a city press release, which stated that Gold’s Gym was open to residents who were in need of a hot shower.

Shoreline residents June and Bob Stinson finally decided to check into a hotel on Monday afternoon after being without electricity since 5 p.m. on Dec. 14. That is, if June Stinson could convince her husband it was finally time to leave their home.

“I’m here with my 82-year-old husband and he doesn’t want to leave,” said June Stinson, 74.

Until now, the couple and their grown daughter have not gone to a hotel because they have pets to care for and they keep thinking the electricity will turn back on any moment.

“We go once a day to a restaurant to eat; our only heat is the fireplace,” said June Stinson. “The bedrooms are ice-cold; the temperature here is not even 30 (degrees).”

Although they can heat coffee and tea outside on the barbecue, all perishable food has since gone bad.

The Stinsons live in what they call a “pocket” in Shoreline that is prone to power outages, in the vicinity of 203rd Street and Burke Avenue North. Power outages are an ongoing problem and in six weeks the power has gone out five times, said June Stinson, who marks outages on her calendar.

“This is an ongoing problem for us here in this particular area,” said June Stinson, who has sleep apnea and is unable to use an electric machine that helps her breathe more easily when she sleeps.

Previous power outages have lasted 2-14 hours. The recent outage has surpassed any of the others. While much of Shoreline has regained power, June Stinson feels her neighborhood is largely ignored.

“This happens so often that we feel very isolated and abandoned,” said June Stinson, who wasn’t pleased with the customer service she received when calling the city’s help line to report the outage. “When I called City Hall it was almost like they don’t believe us.”

There’s a transformer nearby that “always blows,” said June Stinson, who heard the explosion during the recent wind storm. She suspects tall trees and snags struck wires.

Two of the Stinsons’ neighbors stayed at a hotel on Sunday evening, yet another nearby family with three young children are “sticking it out,” she said.

“I think they are treating it as an adventure; they go to the mall, eat out and play board games,” June Stinson said, “but we are old here.”

The Stinsons and their daughter have been wearing the same layers of clothes since the power went out. And staying with family members “isn’t feasible.”

The Stinsons’ neighborhood is on a different grid than other areas of the city that have power, said Shoreline interim public works director Jesus Sanchez.

“There’s always going to be pockets of areas with no power,” Sanchez said. “Those could take a couple days (to repair).”

Electricity in a “good chunk of Shoreline has been restored,” said Sanchez.

Public works crews have been out all weekend doing recovery work, essentially clearing debris from roadways and getting ready to remove large branches extending onto public roadways.

“This will continue for some time,” he said about the recovery work.

In order to get power back on, Seattle City Light workers must come out to the site and certify that lines are inactive and it is safe to work. Power lines can’t be live when tree removal begins. After city crews remove trees, then crews can work to restore power lines, according to a press release.

“A lot of what we are waiting on is Seattle City Light and they are inundated,” said Lake Forest Park public works director Scott Walker. “It’s bad in our city, let alone in the whole region.”

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