Source: Sherman Publications

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Unplanned Christmas

by Susan Bromley

January 01, 2014

Sara Taylor was anticipating Christmas 2013 as the first one in her new Atlas Township home, as well as the first one for her baby.

However, things for the Taylor family, like hundreds of other area families, didn't go quite according to plan.

Sara, who is married to Brad and the mother of two— Braden, 6, and Cole, 9-months-old, arrived home around 8 a.m., Dec. 22. She had just finished the night shift at Hurley Hospital, where she works as a critical care nurse. Sara was ready to take a few days off to celebrate Christmas with her family, since she would be working the actual holiday, but instead she was faced with an emergency at home— no power and freezing temperatures.

Close to 300,000 customers of Consumers Energy and DTE Energy lost power in the ice storm that hit in the early morning hours of Dec. 22.

"We had to get out of the house pretty much immediately because of the kids," said Sara. "I was really upset, because this was our first Christmas in the new house and our baby's first Christmas." What would follow was more than a somewhat spoiled Christmas— the Taylors went seven days without power, one of the last eight rural DTE Energy customers to be restored to full service, she said.

One of the biggest lessons they learned, Sara added, was how horribly prepared they were. While the Taylors had a generator, it was not hooked up to their furnace and thus, they did not know the generator they had was not enough to power the furnace for the new house.

They were fortunate to have family nearby with power and they took their dog, Chopper, a boxer mix, to Brad's parents' home to stay and the rest of the family went to stay with Sara's parents. As Sunday wore on with no power and they realized their planned Christmas was not going to happen in their new home, things grew even more complicated.

Brad was running back and forth to their powerless home to make sure the pipes weren't freezing and their two goats had water, and they were also worrying about pulling Christmas off for their kids.

In the dark of their home, Sara and Brad hunted with flashlights to find all the presents she had stashed. Brad didn't know the location of any and Sara didn't remember where all of them were as they searched in the cold. To top it all off, furniture was all out of place due to remodeling of bedrooms.

"Santa came multiple times because I couldn't find all the presents," Sara said. "It was cold, I wanted to get out of there."

None of the presents had been wrapped yet, as she had anticipated wrapping them that night. Sara's mother helped her wrap.

"It ended up OK, they have a 5-bedroom home and were not inconvenienced in that sense," said Sara. "My parents did great with being crashed with house guests. We were lucky to have somewhere to go."

Even without power, nothing could stop Santa's arrival and they opened gifts Monday morning as planned. On Monday afternoon, they were back in their house, using a generator loaned from a friend to run the furnace, the refrigerator and one light.

Sara noted that many people were angry at the power companies, but she and Brad felt differently.

"We had no one to be mad at except ourselves," she said. "This is Michigan. For us, it was tough, but a lesson to be prepared."

The Taylors felt grateful to have a generator loaned to them and to have heat, but the loss of power meant no water from the well and no flushing toilets without melting water first.

They lost most of the the food in the fridge and she said Christmas Eve at the grocery store was horrible. The store, which also lost power, was no longer taking debit cards and was shutting things down. No stores were open on Christmas.

Sara had to go back to work on actual Christmas Eve and also worked Christmas Day. Still no power, even after others in the area finally got it back.

"I had no clothes clean, no food in the fridge, and no shower," said Sara, who called in to work after five days without power and no clean laundry. "It's not the end of the world, but things were building up. DTE was telling us we had power when we didn't. They were telling us via text message and then Brad would call and they would say, at 11:30 p.m. By day five and six, they kept telling us that and we were scared they forgot about us."

They were melting snow in anything they could find and using bottled water to wash baby bottles and brush teeth.

Finally, on the morning of Dec. 29, one week after the power went out, the lights came back on.

"It was wonderful," said Sara. "Days and days and days ago, I had turned on all the kitchen light switches, thinking, 'I will know when it turns on.' The neighbors said all of a sudden, the entire house lit up."

That day, Sara said, was a basic boring day at home, but at the same time, the best day "in so long."

The Taylor family has taken steps to make sure they are never caught in such a dire predicament again. Sara has stocked an emergency bin with paper plates, cups and plasticware, as well as flashlights, batteries, and candles. She even bought buckets for melting water. They looked into purchasing a whole house generator, but with the cost of one being about $7,000-$8,000, that is not a priority. Instead, Brad ordered a generator that will be enough to power their furnace to keep them warm and run the refrigerator and a few lights the next time the power goes out, which she knows will happen again, although hopefully never for quite so long.

"Power outages happen a lot here," Sara noted. "We had grand plans, it fell apart and definitely was not the best Christmas, but we were together and weren't in any danger, that's what really matters... DTE couldn't prevent the storm and actually, it was really pretty. The weirdest thing, you just don't really think it's going to go that long. It became our new normal, but it was a lot more work."

She adds that the experience barely fazed their 6-year-old son.

"Braden knows Santa is super flexible."

And for next time, the Taylors are super prepared.