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The big thaw: Power outage leaves resident coping with cold


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Verna Schultz of Indianapolis clears an elderly neighbor's driveway Wednesday. Schultz was without power for 48 hours after Sunday's winter storm.
Verna Schultz of Indianapolis clears an elderly neighbor's driveway Wednesday. Schultz was without power for 48 hours after Sunday's winter storm.

Verna Schultz of Indianapolis clears an elderly neighbor's driveway Wednesday. Schultz was without power for 48 hours after Sunday's winter storm.
Verna Schultz of Indianapolis clears an elderly neighbor's driveway Wednesday. Schultz was without power for 48 hours after Sunday's winter storm.


The needle on the thermostat ticked lower and lower.

When Verna Schultz lost power on Sunday night, the inside of her southside Indianapolis home had been balmy in the upper 60s. But as the temperature outside dove to record lows, and with her furnace inoperable, Schultz started to feel the chill.

“It was getting a little cool. When it was 49 degrees, I knew I had to do something the next day,” she said.

For more than 46 hours, Schultz was without power. Using a mix of generators, space heaters and a kerosene heater in her fireplace, she kept the interior temperature at 50 degrees or above.

She and her 4-year-old shih tzu, Sunny Day, created a nest on her couch with blankets and tried to move around as little as possible to stay warm.

“My down-alternative comforters paid for themselves,” Schultz said.

This storm marked the longest time that she had been without power in the 22 years she had lived in her home. She had been without power for 22 hours when tornadoes ripped through the area in 2002 and lost electricity for 18 hours during the windstorms on Oct. 31 last year.

Delays & Cancellations

Center Grove schools are closed today and all other Johnson County public schools are

on a two-hour delay.

More than 7 inches of snow had fallen by 3:45 p.m. Sunday when Schultz’s house went dark, according to the National Weather Service.

The heavy, wet snow had caused a tree to fall on the power lines 2½ blocks to the east. Any time the lines go down to the east of her house, the breaker next door to her goes out, leaving her without electricity, she said.

But Schultz was prepared.

She had stockpiled food so that she would have something to eat in event of a large storm. She had Cheerios and milk for breakfast and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.

An experienced camper, she had camp stoves available to cook chicken and noodles. But Schultz found that she could simply put her bowl on top of her kerosene heater and warm up her food that way.

To keep her home safe, she immediately went to each faucet and allowed them to trickle out. By keeping the water moving, she prevented any of her pipes from freezing.

“I’ve worked hard my entire life to have a home, and I was going to protect its resources,” she said. “Between my neighbors and my brother, I could get the things I needed to keep it warm.”

The only time she left her home was on Monday, when she traveled to her brother’s home in Beech Grove to pick up the kerosene heater and a generator.

Kerosene heaters can be dangerous to light indoors, since they give off carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and other gases as they burn. But Schultz solved this problem by keeping hers in the fireplace.

Opening the flue allowed the fumes to escape while the heat stayed indoors, for the most part.

Schultz had hoped that the generator she borrowed would be large enough to work her furnace, but it was not. Instead, she set up a space heater on top of it and let it run.

“I used that to heat the living room, where I ended up sleeping,” she said.

Sunny Day found her own ways to survive the storm. She curled up in a ball on the couch and refused to leave.

At most, she could stand outside for only about 90 seconds and wore a sheepskin coat to stay warm.

With the generator, Schultz was able to charge and use her iPhone, contacting friends and family to let them know she was safe. She posted on Facebook and surfed the Internet when she got bored.

Then, when it became dark, she went to bed.

“Not wanting to use candles while I was sleeping or all of the battery-powered flashlights and camping lights I had, I’d turn in early,” she said. “Plus, you get pretty tired as the temperature gets lower and you worry about when the power will come back on.”

That worry lasted until almost 8 p.m. Tuesday. Schultz was sitting in the dark when the lights finally came back on.

Schultz has spent time since the power came back on assessing the damage from the storm. None of her pipes froze, and though the snow is thick on her roof, nothing appears to be damaged.

She planned to spend the next few days cleaning off her driveway and sidewalks. With the power on, she has contacted Indianapolis Power & Light to thank them for their service.

Schultz worked in the field for AT&T before retiring in 2011, often braving wind, snow, ice and rain to fix problems with the phone service. She realized how treacherous the conditions for IPL employees were and understood that the electricity would not be restored right away.

“I know what it’s like to walk from the street through deep snow to a telephone pole in the backyard. I worked through the Blizzard of ‘78, so I know what the conditions were,” she said. “I had nothing but thanks for those linemen.”

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