Power still out in Northeast Texas

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Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2001 at 23:20 CST

Power still out in Northeast Texas; Thousands may be without electricity until next month By Susan Parrott The Associated Press

MANCHESTER -- Aline Langley took advantage of warmer weather this week to do a little laundry -- the old-fashioned way.

She filled a tub with bottled water and scrubbed her son's jeans and work shirts on a metal washboard. "It's like the olden days," said Langley, 67.

Langley is one of thousands of people in Northeast Texas who have been without electricity since a Christmas Eve ice storm.

"It's been rough," she said. "If we don't get some [repairmen] down here soon, there's going be a firing line."

Although crews have been working 16-hour days to restore power in the hard-hit region, it could be next month before every customer is back on line, officials said.

Large power companies like TXU and AEP/Southwestern Electric Power completed most repairs last week, but rural electric cooperatives in Bowie, Lamar and Red River counties were still working this week to restore power to about 2,000 customers, said Don Rogers, spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety's Division of Emergency Management.

And once main feeders are back on line, some customers will have to wait for licensed electricians to repair their individual meters.

Life is back to normal for Rhonda Lacy, who also lives in Manchester, just south of the Oklahoma border in Red River County.

Her electricity was reconnected Tuesday, restoring light to the Christmas tree in her living room and icicle bulbs rimming the double-wide mobile home.

"I've been too depressed to take it down," she said of the decorations. "I've just felt helpless. The country people have been the last to get help."

Lacy, her husband and three teen-age children kept warm by sleeping on mattresses in front of the living-room fireplace. They worked puzzles by candlelight and cooked on a camping stove.

Mild weather this week has made it easier for the family to begin gathering the hundreds of tree limbs that litter their lawn, casualties of the snow and ice that downed power lines and disrupted telephone service.

About 280,000 residents were without electricity at one time or another during back-to- back winter storms last month that crippled northeastern parts of the state, along with parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas.

President Clinton has signed a federal disaster declaration for Bowie, Cass and Red River counties, providing financial assistance for residents, businesses and local governments.

Clarksville City Manager Kenneth Martin said cleanup costs have depleted the city's budget.

"This looks like a war zone with all the trees down," he said. "I worked in Florida during Hurricane Brett and we didn't have the kind of tree damage that is here."

He said many older homeowners in the community are not physically or financially able to make necessary repairs, which may leave the burden of cleanup to the city.

"We are going to be in this for years to come," he said.

Although Langley is thankful she has a butane-powered furnace to keep warm and could buy a $600 generator for her freezer, she said she wished her power company, Lamar Electric Co-op, had worked faster to make repairs.

"They should have brought in more emergency crews," she said. "I've been ready to pull my hair out."

Charles Christian, a spokesman for the utility, said crews from six neighboring co-ops helped with repairs, which should be complete this week.

"Things are looking so much better now," he said. "I've never seen anything like this. This took out almost the whole system."

About 7,500 of the Lamar Electric's 10,200 customers were without power at some time.

Langley said the outage has taught residents a valuable lesson: "We've learned how to survive."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), January 11, 2001

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