Innovative families survive ice storm, but it's a struggle; Minus power, they read by candlelight, sleep by fireplace, use gas grills


For the innovative in an ice storm, life goes on without water, heat and electricity -- but adapting can be a struggle, as some Carroll County families found out.

Families in Woodbine were among the more than 350,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers who lost power as ice-laden limbs began snapping and falling on utility wires in Central Maryland last week.

Still, few anticipated being left in the dark for more than a day.

Kelee Norris, a 31-year-old mother of two boys, sure didn't.

Her husband, Edward, a Montgomery County firefighter, was halfway to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for a weeklong golf outing on Friday when the lights went out at their home in the 600 block of Hoods Mill Road, a half-mile from the Howard County line.

"Oh, my husband called as soon as he heard about the problem here, but we just figured power would be restored any minute," Norris said. "I told him the boys and I would be fine."

"Fine" lasted a few hours before Christopher, 11, and Corey, 9, learned a real-life lesson, said Norris.

No electricity means no power for the well's pump, no favorite TV programs, no computer games -- and the icy conditions outside meant no riding of dirt bikes.

The family coped, eating carry-out subs and french fries, and slept on the floor Friday night in front of the fireplace, snuggled in sleeping bags and extra quilts.

The inside temperature fell to 46 degrees and reached only 52 degrees with a roaring fire, so Norris took the boys and went to stay with a friend on Saturday night. Sunday, she went shopping for a gas-powered generator and grew frustrated after learning "nobody had any [generators] left in stock," she said.

"A friend's husband found one I was able to borrow, and that saved a freezer filled with meat," she said.

Utility service was restored Monday afternoon, Norris said.

A short jog away, in the 500 block of Hoods Mill Road, Deborah and John Gillespie were watching television news coverage of the ice storm on Friday, minutes before their electricity was disrupted at 5: 30 a.m.

It was tolerable, even fun at first.

The Gillespies took Meghan, 14, Kelly, 10, and Jack, 9, to the YMCA to swim on Friday afternoon and went out to eat before returning to their dark, all-electric home about 10 p.m.

They read books by candlelight and went to sleep in front of the fireplace, said Deborah Gillespie.

"I fired up the gas grill Saturday morning and cooked sausage and eggs for breakfast before taking the kids to my mother's home in Westminster," she said.

Not wishing to risk having their water pipes freeze, the Gillespies kept a fire burning in the fireplace around the clock, but life was miserable on Sunday.

"I had the flu, and no water in the bathroom to flush," she said.

During one of her several calls to BGE officials over the weekend, Gillespie said she was "begging them to send a crew to get the problem fixed, so we'd have water again."

Sunday evening, she was feeling well enough to drive around in search of BGE work crews, but couldn't find any.

Throughout the weekend, the Gillespies drove twice a day to Eldersburg to get dry ice provided by the utility company to keep food from spoiling.

"The dry ice saved everything but some ice cream," she said.

Their power was restored at 2: 30 p.m. Monday.

BGE officials said a feeder line failed in the Howard County portion of Woodbine, causing the outage along Hoods Mill Road. Feeder lines carry electricity between substations and transformers atop utility poles. From there, service is distributed to individual homes and residences.

If there was an upside to three days without electricity, it was the silence -- "not hearing television, radio music and Nintendo games," Gillespie said.

Norris and Gillespie said they will consider buying a gas-powered generator to guard against prolonged outages.

Gillespie said she was thankful that utility crews from other states came to help local BGE workers.

Utility officials said it was the first time since Hurricane David struck in 1980 that out-of-state companies were called upon for assistance.

BGE officials closed their storm center at 11 a.m. yesterday.

Pub Date: 1/20/99

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