Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Kalamazoo Ice Storm Story: February 2011

Check out the photo. In case you can't, let me describe it. It's a 75 foot tall pine tree laying on our neighbor's car, lengthwise, and covering our driveway.

So that happened about 20 minutes after I moved my car down to the lot at the bottom of the hill, about half a mile away. I walked back, into the house, started writing Desi a note about how the drive was getting really slippery with the freezing rain and I thought I'd better get at least one of our cars out of the drive so she could go to work in the morning (even if it meant a bit of a walk) and about half way through that letter I heard the tree cracking and falling. I finished the letter, then went out to see if I could tell what tree had fallen and where. Hadn't felt the house shake, so I didn't think it had hit our house. I eventually saw the tree, went to the neighbor's to tell her, then went in to tell Desi. The power had been out for maybe an hour, but we knew we were in for a long outage with that tree down. It had hit power lines and our cable TV and Internet lines on the way down.

With our birds, we have to be careful. So I had to go upstairs where there's a natural gas fireplace and clean and get things arranged for us to move camp up there. Birds got put in travel cages and moved, no problem. Dogs had little coats. Desi got a little more sleep and went to work a couple hours late. I spent the day trying to get more things arranged, like finding the kerosene heater and getting it set up (had to clean an area in the basement.) Then got Todd to bring over a chain saw.

Now, with the power and cable lines entangled with the tree we needed the cable and power companies to come out and deal with their wires. But the cable company said we had to move the tree before they'd move the cable lines. We couldn't get someone to agree to move the tree until the power and cable lines had been disentangled.

Argh! Gah! Charter Communications sucks ass! They should have some way to respond to situations like this. They were telling me they were institutionally incapable of doing anything at all about their cables, even just to move them out of the way. That's bad. Talked to the customer service line supervisor, and that's as far as I could go. No way to communicate this to the company, and this supervisor is a nobody who could never pass it up the line.

This is a societal problem, I think, not just Charter Communications, but because Charter could choose to do it differently and don't, they deserve the blame. Customers need a way to seek redress of their grievances in situations where getting courts or the government involved would be an inappropriate step -- for their own sake.

At first, consumers was no help, either. I said to them that we were trapped in our drive (Desi at work with my car and I had no chance of getting Desi's car out) until the tree was moved and nobody would move the tree until the power line was cut. I said it's an emergency. He said that every power line down is an emergency and there were 4800 power lines down. I said not all of them were trapping people in their houses. He said that probably some of them were. I said thanks asshole and hung up. Eventually they did come in the evening, just when Todd and I were pulling up with the chain saw. The Consumers guy said, and I quote, "You live here? You poor bastard." Didn't bode well for our power situation.

Todd and I cut a tunnel under the tree with the chain saw by headlight illumination. The power came back on at just about midnight. I had just, and I do mean just barely, given up on the fish. The water was freezing cold and they were all three swimming upside down and generally dying. I'd poured a couple pans of boiling water in to try to heat it up a bit, to barely any effect, and I'd been blowing air in through a hose to try to oxygenate the water. I gave up, turned away from the tank thinking they were all goners, and the power came on. So that was good. The temp in the house was down to 45 degrees by the time the power came on. We slept okay upstairs and Desi went to work.

Yesterday the neighbor's insurance company gave the go ahead to get tree removal, and she and I worked in the drive to clear snow, ice and tree bits. I spent six hours of hard labor in the driveway. The other neighbors, the ones to our south, couldn't be bothered to help, of course. Came in and ate some food. Got a call then from a friend who needed a jump, and Todd wanted our kerosene heater because they were still without power. Did that, came back, and the power was off again. Told Desi by text message. She threatened to just head south, maybe to Texas, after she got out of work. That was at 7:45 pm. The power came back on at around 10:30, just before Desi got home.