The Rural Side of Power Outage

Straight line winds, powerful as a hurricane, knocked out electricity in much of West Virginia June 29. More than a week later, residents without well water, toilets or, in some cases, food, turned to each other to resuscitate old skills at survival.

By Rebecca Hartman Huenink SOURCE: Daily Yonder

Caroline Smith of Bootstraps Farm in Renick, West Virginia, washed dishes in the creek near her house Saturday. Eight days earlier, a massive wind storm knocked out power for thousands of West Virginians, many of whom rely on water wells and electric pumps.Saturday morning I got to listen to the radio for the first time since a hurricane-strength wind storm knocked out power to most of the state of West Virginia on June 29th (eight days before, if you’re counting). I was curious about how the national media had been covering our disaster and its aftermath, so I listened closely to the 8 am newscast: Syria, Wimbledon, oh yes, there it was at the end: “Millions in West Virginia are still without air conditioning….” Oh, dear.

Clearly, urban journalists, you have no idea. Air conditioning is the least of our worries right now. I realize that in the city when power goes out in a heat wave, air conditioning is the big concern: older folks, especially, can succumb to heatstroke without adequate cooling. But people around here have hardly noticed the lack of air conditioning.

That’s because in our part of the country, these days nearly everyone depends on a well for water. Modern wells depend on electric pumps. So, no power? No water. No water? No dish washing, no showers — and no toilet. Think on that one for a minute.
Another thing: no power? No gas pumps. No gas pumps? No going anywhere. When you live 15, 20, or even 30 miles from the nearest town, you can’t just walk down the street and buy a quart of milk. Oh, and that quart of milk? Gone sour — in the dumpster. The grocery store, 20 or 30 miles away, doesn’t have power either. So no power? No food. None to buy, anyway.

Speaking of food, people in the country rely on their freezers. Animals (deer, cattle, hogs) generally go in the freezer in the fall and feed the family for the rest of the year. No power? No freezer. No freezer? No meat. As my teenage neighbor pointed out, “If the meat in the freezer goes bad, we’ll be very, very vegetarian until the next calf is grown.”

This is not a part of the world where people tend to have paid time off for things like natural disasters. Most people work hourly jobs that don’t pay you if you don’t show up, or they run small-to-tiny farms and businesses that stand to lose big or even fold in the face of a week or more without water or transportation.

So say you’re stranded 30 miles from town with tiny kids begging for milk (I am not exaggerating — toddlers can’t have milk if there’s no refrigeration and no cow), you’re losing at least a quarter of your income this month, all of the food in your fridge and freezer is rotting, your toilet doesn’t work, and you have to ration your last couple of gallons of gas to haul drinking water from the nearest spring (or church or firehouse doing relief work). Sure it’s hot, but you’re not worried about the air conditioning.

We weren’t always so helpless. Just a generation or two ago, people in our area were pretty self-sufficient. Quite a few of my friends have told the world (in quick car-battery-powered facebook sessions on their cellphones) how thankful they are that they neglected to tear down that old outhouse in the corner of the yard.

My childhood friend Angelena Ryder of Huntersville said her dad was joking that the storm took us back to the 19th century in a matter of minutes. “He said he thought it was funny that the younger generation was worried about the elders, when the elders were in fact the ones worried about the younger generation because they had no idea how to live off the land and without modern tech.”

People are talking about self-sufficiency now: neighbors wondering about wind (or solar) powered well pumps, facebook friends swearing to ask their grandmothers to teach them to can. West Virginians are used to finding a way to get by. But it’s also not lost on West Virginians that we provide power for the cities. Between coal, natural gas, and now wind power, we certainly keep the lights on. Isn’t it ironic that we can’t seem to depend on that power ourselves? Are our hills somehow too steep for the 21st century?

This afternoon at Bootstraps Farm in Renick, Michael Buttrill and Caroline Smith hauled their dishes down to the creek to wash them. On the opposite bank, at the base of a forested hill, an electric line hung in a thick tangle of trees. There’s no road leading to that line, just a barely-used footpath. It must be one of the lines the power company says were “set by mules” back in the 1940s. We all look at the line and wonder how in the world the power company will get to that to fix it. We doubt they have mules now. Michael shakes his head. “We could do it back then when we had nothing. Now we have everything, what can we do?”

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14 Responses to The Rural Side of Power Outage

  1. Citizen Harry says:

    Seems like a good time for people to start figuring out how to rely on solar power, and renewable energy so that people aren’t at the mercy of the big mega corporations for their basic needs. Funny how the big coal companies keep touting how they “KEEP THE LIGHTS ON”, and then the people who dig it up from the ground are without it while the rich coal barrons play golf in their own backyard.

  2. Walt says:

    With at least seven solar companies filing for bankruptcy protection in the last couple of years, it doesn’t look like we will be relying on solar power in the near future.

    Before you accuse me of putting words in your mouth again, let me ask you a question. Would you rather everyone’s power be turned as it was a section at a time or would you rather everyone’s power be turned on at the same time? Everyone knows that areas closest to the main transmission lines will regain power first, and the area’s that are the furthest away (rural) from the main transmission lines will be restore last.

  3. Citizen Harry says:

    Yeah, with the coal and natural gas companies controlling the politicians, a move toward solar power looks bleak. Too bad it works in progressive countries in Europe and elsewhere that don’t have the same kind of politics/payoffs/greed problem that we have here in the “free” states. Even the crooked corporations and politicians in some progressive countries have some semblance of caring for their constituents since their system doesn’t rely as much on under the table briefcase swaps.

    I guess Greenbriar Country Club is right at the beginning of the grid in Greenbriar County, and there were no favors, phone calls, or demands made from behind closed doors. You’re right, like usual, and I must be wrong. Money and politics have nothing to do with favors for the ungodly rich.

    I’ll wait now patiently for you to dig up dirt on progressive European countries now.

    • Walt says:

      Avoiding the question, old habits are hard to break aren’t they Harry?

      Here’s a little insight on the great Europe solar industry. First only a handful of solar manufactures are profitable, and several are closing because their profits have disappeared with sales dropping nearly 60%.

      Harry please keep your comments coming because you are looking more like the south end of a north bound horse with each comment you make.

  4. Citizen Harry says:

    I sent in an article about the state of solar power in Europe. Where does it say that solar energy is failing, and aales dropping? Especially when countries like Germany have put a cap on tariffs and are seeing exponential growth. I guess riding backwards on your horse makes you see things backwards, huh Walt.

    • Walt says:

      Come on Harry just answer the question, you have been critical of everyone else’s views, tell us how would have restored everyone’s power?

      You think the solar industry in Europe is so great? You may want to do a little more research, until now the solar energy industry has been subsidized and now across Europe governments are cutting the subsidies some by as much as 50%. Several Solar developers are declaring bankruptcy while others are saying they will be lucky to break even.

  5. Wake up says:

    Who is this Walt guy? It seems pretty obvious to me that he’s either paid by the coal industry or has a personal vendetta against those who won’t sit down for corrupt politics, destroyed mountains, and pollution in the name of energy. It is pretty entertaining to watch what this moron writes though. It’s amazing how some people have absolutely no moral conscience. Usually it’s those with something to lose, so I’m guessing he’s involved with the coal industry somehow. Either that or he’s mentally deficient, as well as morally bankrupt.

    • Walt says:

      You must be a newbie to this site, here’s a little background to ole Walt, I’ve been around for a couple of years trying to correct just a fraction of the misleading information some people like to pawn off on the average unsuspecting person who has no knowledge of coal mining. I see that the enviro’s have already sunk their teeth into you, I not asking you or anyone else to believe anything I say, I’m just asking you to take what I say into consideration and to do your own research, and always check out both sides of the argument and make your own decision. No, I’m not paid by the coal industry, I do this on my own time for myself.

  6. Wake up says:

    My Country ’tis of thee… Sweet land of Liberty, of thee I sing… what a load of crap. Walt, you are the most obvious nutcracker from the coal industry that I’ve ever seen on a blog. Give me a break. Ha ha. ha. Anyone that was really interested in dialogue would not resort to calling people ‘enviros’ like there’s something wrong with caring about where we live. Keep the lights on, Walt. You’ll need them on to continue writing all your badmouthing, and by the way… that’s not research. It’s called propaganda. When I saw the movie Coal Country I came to this blog after visiting their site. I’ve done a little research of my own, and mountain top removal is the main problem I’ll talk about here. All the ‘research’ in the world, or calling me names won’t change how I feel about destroying the natural environment for the sake of profits. West Virginia’s mountains are a complete mess because of it. You should be ashamed of yourself, and if it is jut you on your own… I feel sad that the human race hasn’t evolved much when it comes to people like you. Shame.

    • Walt says:

      Yes, I said “enviro’s”, and on the flip side you called me “a moron, mental deficient and moral bankrupt”, yet you claim that I’m bad mouthing everyone. These types of comments really shouldn’t surprise anyone, after all it is taught in basic enviro 101.

  7. Wake up says:

    Nope, being a moron is noticeable when someone slings half truths, and labels around to disrupt a blog. Being moronic is when you sling mud, and then complain if someone slings a little back at you. Being moronic is when you say in public that you don’t mind mountains being blown up for a process that ruins economies forever, peoples lives, land and health, and the beauty of one of our national treasures. Being moronic is pretending that you aren’t part of an agenda to discredit people from protesting the way they’re treated, and what they have to live through because of an outdated, non-renewable, polluting and dangerous system that is doomed to fail soon anyway. Being moronic is arguing that there is no alternative. Being moronic is not believing that there’s also a human part in climate change. Being moronic is being ok with burning coal for energy when it’s proven that it’s the dirtiest possible way of making energy.

    And especially that Citizen Harry dude… he’s is a moron also. Why? Because it’s moronic to continually argue with a coal company man called ‘Walt’, as Walt’s opinion isn’t (obviously) worth arguing for most people. In his defense, he probably just gets some perverse sort of pleasure reading your moronic replies to him, as it is a good way to continually see the mindset of far right wing corruption. Mentally deficient? Morally bankrupt? I just posed the question that if you really weren’t paid by some coal company or politician to write on this blog, then your opinions would seem to come from someone who had mental problems, or just wasn’t raised to care for other human beings suffering, or the natural environment. It’s up to the reader to formulate his own opinions… and that was mine after reading your continuing barrage of rage against environmentalists, and protesters. We don’t learn anything useful from your rants ‘Walt’. We are just continually delighted to know what the big corporate world is thinking. So thanks for that! I’m not much of a blogger, so I’ll leave it up to Citizen Harry to continue getting brow beat by you. It’s been fun to write in a few times and let you know that some of us who read the blog enjoy a dose of dark humor when you write in.

    • Walt says:

      First, let me say this, I CHALLENGE you to go back through all of my comments and find one just one where I said coal is our only option and there are no alternatives. I have ALWAYS said we need all energy sources, and that includes coal, gas, oil, nuclear, solar, wind and anything else we can come up with, because as a country we need to be energy independent, we have too many resources on our own land to have to rely on unstable foreign countries. My issue is that at this time solar and wind energy is not ready to step up and replace fossil fuels, that’s not say they won’t some day, just not today.

      I guess that makes you the king of the MORONS, because you are not only spreading more than half truths, you are spreading out and out lies. The coal industry has not ruin the economy, actually it is just the opposite the economy in Appalachia is based on coal mining, as a matter of fact it is the enviro’s that are ruining the economy by trying to shutdown the coal industry.

      Another one of your lies is that mining ruins people’s lives, lands and health. Did you know in order to surface mine the coal company has to have the land owners permission? These people want their land mined and left in an usable manner, and land owners are paid when their land is mined, which gives the land owner the opportunity to improve his/her way of life. Finally let’s discuss the health issues, you are basing this on a study performed by anti-coal group and not by an unbiased independent group. Look the men/women who work at these mines also live in these communities, so tell me why aren’t they getting sick? You have to consider that we live in the an area where people rarely go the doctor, we have the highest drug and smoking usage rate and we also have one of the highest obese rates in the nation, but yet the enviro’s want to blame it on the coal industry.

      Your turn, Wasteup/Harry.

  8. Citizen Harry says:

    well, that shut him up for a few days anyhow. LOL.

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