Monday, July 09, 2012

Writer tells the rural side of power outage story

Rebecca Smith washes dishes during
the power outage in a stream near 

her W.Va. home (Huenink photo)

A week after a storm knocked out electricity across a lot of the country, Rebecca Hartman Huenink has plenty of sympathy for urban dwellers who lost air conditioning. But life in non-electrified rural America, she reports for the Daily Yonder, is a bit more complicated than that. "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."

Huenink goes on: "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."

Huenink reminds that 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." Now, writes Huenink, people are talking about self-sufficiency, "neighbors wondering about wind (or solar) powered well pumps, Facebook friends swearing to ask their grandmothers to teach them to can." Meanwhile, West Virginians are used to finding a way to get by, she writes, all the while, remembering that their coal miners are the ones who keep the lights on for a lot of Americans and the awful irony that, because of terrain and remoteness, she will wait an inordinately long time for the power company to turn her electricity back on.

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