Human Flower Project
Powerless in Kentucky
An ice storm Tuesday, and continuing winter weather, have brought the most extensive power outages in the history of Kentucky. With loved ones, wine, and camera, Allen Bush soldiers on.
A holly tree wears a suit of ice in Louisville, Kentucky;
172,000 houses are still without electricity there
Photo: Allen Bush
By Allen Bush
Rose and I were surprised we had power during the first twenty-four hours of the storm. But it was just a matter of time. Tuesday evening, twelve hours into snow and then – much worse – freezing rain, the power started going out around town. My neighbor, Lenny Lyles, likes to say our little piece of the power grid goes dark whenever a squirrel farts. They seldom lose electricity on the other side of the street. (I was warned in junior high school my lot would be the dark side of the street.) Remnants of hurricanes and head-on tornadoes had knocked-out power before. Hurricane Ike still packed a punch for the Ohio Valley and knocked-out power for a week last September) I was often jealous of my neighbors across the street. The Louisville Gas and Electric representative has argued before that we have more squirrels shorting out lines on our critter friendly side of the street. Lenny was right.
Broken beech trees, encrusted with ice on Top Hill Road, Louisville, KY—
42 people have died thus far in the ice storm that gripped seven states
Photo: Allen Bush
We were powered on we went to bed Tuesday night while the freezing rain continued. The other side of the street had gone dark around 8:00. We could hear transformers popping and the crackle of falling tree limbs. I could see the holly covered in ice outside, and the arching branches of the big dogwood. Snapping limbs on the big Beech tree next door set the tone for a bad night’s sleep. Nearby and far away all night long I heard the awful sound. Sometimes it sounded like a string firecrackers; and at other times it was painful snap and a thump when limbs hit the snow and ice. A chain saw droned in the distance in the middle of the night. I dreaded the morning but at least the house was warm. The temperature outside was in the high 20s but was expected to go down into the mid-teens on Friday night. It wasn’t supposed to rise above freezing until Saturday.
We watched the local morning news Wednesday morning and then heard the transformer blow. Instantly we were down. Darkness, my fate. Our neighbors met us on the street. Did we have any C batteries, one asked? She needed some to run a battery powered heater for her fish tank. I thought I did, went and looked and had none. With another I talked about whether to shut-off the water line or let it drip at each faucet. (Shutting it off seemed to be the best plan with cold temperatures expected the next few nights.) The road was blocked in one direction by the big beech limbs and looked clear in the other. Still, our side street was too icy to venture-out in the car. Heading off on foot to Frankfort Ave was an option, but it was still snowing and tree limbs continued to rain down. We stayed put.
Crabapples after the storm, January 28, 2009
Photo: Allen Bush
By early afternoon, with the temperature getting colder inside, Rose and I decided to hoof it up to Frankfort Ave. where it was reported Heine Brothers coffee shop was warm and had internet access. I missed internet access more than I missed my toasty family room. The half-mile walk was beautiful. There were many damaged trees, but I was really impressed with the beauty of the snow and ice. It was an astounding dimension of the winter landscape. I hadn’t noticed the big gum balls on the sycamore before. And pity the poor yellowwood on the corner. I love its smooth gray bark and white pea-like flowering racemes in May. Now it is straining – not broken but badly bent. Crabapples never looked so good encased in crystalline ice.
Snowboarders on the hill at Barrett Jr. High School, Louisville, Kentucky
Photo: Allen Bush
Friendly folks were in the streets and kids were snowboarding down the hill of the junior high school. (This is not the same school where Mr. Rommel, my general science teacher, scolded me repeatedly for being a wiseacre). The coffee shop was packed. The urgency of freezing pipes over the next few nights could wait while cell phones are re-charged and grab as you go internet contact is precariously maintained.
Back home, the big Southern Magnolia had dropped some branches and flattened a boxwood. A young, proud fifteen foot Swamp White Oak was bent to the ground. My big dogwood was battered and straining but might make it with some careful pruning. The ancient gnarly sassafras, dying a slow death for 13 years, and destined soon for an arborist’s takedown, wasn’t fazed in the least. 500,000 homes across Kentucky and Southern Indiana are without power. 8900 power lines are down in the Louisville area. It could be 7 – 10 days before power is restored. We decided to bail.
We decided on Aunt Stannye’s. Rose grabbed her stuff and the dog. I grabbed a case of Volnay burgundy wine. With this, my wife, dog and a toothbrush I’d be ok.