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Without power, area residents found new ways to beat the cold

After surviving a cold and powerless night, area residents still lacking electricity went looking for an outlet.

Dozens piled into Grit Coffee’s Stonefield location to charge devices, drink hot coffee and eat warm baked goods. Some led and participated in virtual meetings while sitting in the shop where every seat and electrical outlet was occupied.

“We’ve had a line of people ever since we opened at 10 a.m.,” said Corrin Pratt, shop lead at Grit Coffee. “I’ve been hearing from a lot of people that their power is out and not going to be restored for days.”

Eva and Dick Nelson, of Charlottesville, came to get warm and borrow internet service because the independent contractors, who work remotely, lost theirs.

“We just moved here from Minnesota. People are saying ‘well you must be used to this’ but no, not trees coming down!” Eva Nelson said. “My horses are 45 minutes away and so I was trying to feed them yesterday. I got stuck in the traffic, but luckily our neighbors were able to meet them because I couldn’t get to them. I’m probably going to have to ask them again to do that.”

The cold and power outages forced many to do things in different ways. Here are a few examples of how people across the region coped with a night in the cold and without power.

Alexandra Elliot, of Greenwood: After a rather terrifying winter of COVID and the stress of the holidays, there was something rather wonderful in the 24 hours of this time as a family with no power, heat, water or internet.

We had no real outside contact with the world and gathered round a huge fire we built in the snow outside our home. We jumped in and did our ‘jobs’ and there was a suddenly a sense of community where usually we are ships passing in the night with school, work, etc. Conversations ran long and deep and at times hilarious. We listened to music and talked about things we never had before. We learned a lot about survival and what is most vital; a good ax, dry socks, coffee and which toilet to use.

Thankfully after an especially cold night the lights flickered on at 8 a.m. and the furnace hunkered on, but I think we were a little sad that the striking intimacy of the past 24 hours might have passed.

So I think we are going to try camping. When it warms up a bit…

Louis Nelson, of Albemarle County: We live next to Albemarle High School. We lost power around 10 a.m., but I assumed it wouldn’t last long. The kids found comfort with their phones all day. Around 6 p.m. we went to find food. Driving down Hydraulic Road, I got worried as this entire part of Charlottesville had no power.

Getting warm food didn’t work, almost everything was closed. I remembered we have a gas grill so we went home and removed the tape from our refrigerator door to grab thawed chicken legs. We ate by flashlight.

When I saw overnight temperatures of 10 degrees, I tried to book a hotel in the area, but they were all sold out. We put on sweatshirts and hats and bundled up with all of our spare blankets and cats to stay warm through a chilly night. When the sun came up, it was 50 degrees inside so we left.

We live at Shenandoah Joe’s now.

Trey Mitchell, of Lake Monticello: We spent the day getting prepared for an extended outage by packing our perishable food into coolers and plastic bins which we set out in the snow. I split wood for the fire and discovered motorcycle boots do double duty as snow boots in a jam.

We cooked dinner on the grill that hasn’t been used since July. And in the evening, we pulled the couches up close to the wood stove where we spent the night.

All throughout, we and our neighbors constantly checked on each other’s wellbeing over text messages and social media. In the morning, we heated water on the grill for coffee and we continue to wait for the hardworking men and women at Central Virginia Electrical Cooperative to restore our power.

Our dog seemed to have not a single care or concern. In fact, spending the night circled around the fire with his people may have been the best night of his life.

Hina Zafar, of Albemarle County: I still don’t have power in my apartment. [Monday] I lit lots of candles. I lay on my brick fireplace as the fire slowly went out and night approached. That became uncomfortable so I moved to the couch and stayed on the couch the entire night.

I could only use my phone and not my laptop and I had to figure out how I was going to eat without power. There was no GrubHub, no DoorDash, no Uber Eats, nothing. I used hot water from my sink to make a cup of noodles, so they were kind of crunchy, but over time they kind of softened. They weren’t super-hot.

My friend and I were texting at 5 a.m. because we both didn’t have power. Her power came on but mine didn’t, so I went to her apartment and hopefully the power stays on.

It’s definitely been an experience. I just can’t help but think how privileged we are every single day of our lives, and one day we don’t have power and we complain about everything.

Jim Carpenter, of Charlottesville: So far Joan and I have endured 30-plus hours of no electricity, which includes no heat and no running water. We made the best of it by having dinner by the fireplace last night of peanut butter and crackers.

I did get a chance to go out and play in the snow with the kids across the street and we made a snowman soldier saluting our American flag. We also took a ride through the city and county taking some photographs that showed the beautiful awesome snow that we did get.

Joan and I snuggled up last night about 9 p.m. in our bed with no heat, several layers of clothes and hoodies, and laid side-by-side trying to sleep through a fairly long night. We were greeted this morning with sunshine streaking across the room, so I opened the blinds. The heat from the sunlight being magnified through the windows warmed our souls and our hearts.

It was not too much to endure knowing some folks do this every day with no shelter, no food and no facilities. Sometimes we need to be reminded how good we have it.

JJ Sommerville, of Louisa County: Our parents have offered for us to go to a hotel, but with the birds – six Quakers and two cockatiels – and the way the roads are, we aren’t going anywhere until Wednesday.

[Husband] John cleaned off our cars today and VDOT put down gravel last night. Plenty of blankets cover the bird cages and layers of clothes on us. The Pugs provide warmth in the bed, too. We have lanterns and flashlights. Luckily, we eat mostly plant-based so our food supply will thaw and mostly be OK. If we need to, I can dig out a grill or fire pit, but so far we’re OK.

We forgot to stock up on water (birds and dogs don’t care much for seltzer), so we’re melting snow for flushing the toilet and got all the ice cubes out of the freezer to melt for water for the animals.

We’re reading a lot and we have three phone battery banks, one is solar rechargeable. I could make a joke about canned beans providing our gas…

Frances Mendoza, of Albemarle County: It’s been interesting kind of a roller coaster ride. It kind of reminds me of my time living in the Philippines because in the Philippines, there are always typhoons, so we don’t have power all the time. Except now, it’s really cold.

Throughout the day, I was just cold and didn’t have internet service. I went to my car for heat for 30 minutes and then went back in and I wrapped myself in five layers of pants, jackets, socks and then my blanket because it was cold and then I just went to bed.

I woke up at 5 a.m. because it was really cold. About 10 minutes later, my power went back on so I told Hina Zafar she could come over. It’s been nice, but the power has been flickering and I’m starting to get nervous it will go out again.

Andrew Neilson, of Louisa County: Living in a rural area means being prepared. We have a transfer switch wired into our electrical panel so that we can keep the refrigerators cold [with a generator] and get water from the well. Keeping stabilized fuel on hand and test running your generator is all part of it. We fill jugs with drinking water as well as filling the bathtub so that we have plenty of water for non-drinking.

Living in a rural area also means looking out for your neighbors. Giving them a hand when they need it or perhaps babysitting nine snakes and two geckos, who don’t mention insurance. At the end of the day, we warm ourselves up with a hot toddy or two or a good bourbon.


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