CHARLESTON, W.Va. - You don't make it to the age of 103 without some grit. But Carrie Chaplin's grit nearly ran out this week.
Chaplin and her daughter, Louise, lost electricity in the June 29 storms along with half a million other West Virginia residents. A tree fell near their Ballenger Lane home, tearing down the power, telephone and cable lines.
For 12 days, Louise, 61, wrestled heavy gas cans and a borrowed generator to run a small window air conditioning unit. She dumped bag after bag of ice in her cooler to keep what's left of their food cold.
She used bottled water to clean and dress wounds on her mother's leg. She tried and tried to reach someone at the power company to find out when service would be restored.
A repair truck from the power company finally rolled up to the house Wednesday evening. Power was restored by 6 p.m.
"Today I called again, and all I got was, 'We have a lot of calls. . .' that automated stuff you get. I can't hang on the phone. I've got to take care of Mom," a frustrated Louise said earlier in the day.
Louise, who works full-time as her mother's caretaker, said the older woman has chronic heart failure and uses an oxygen machine at night to help her breathe. Their home was supposed to be on the power company's priority list because of that machine.
"We've tried to be patient and wait our turn. But we assumed since Mom was on this list that she would get some priority treatment," the daughter said.
After two weeks of restoration work and more than a few setbacks caused by subsequent windstorms, most Appalachian Power customers are now back online. The company's website listed 8,164 customers without power Wednesday evening, including 2,194 in Kanawha County.
Louise said all her neighbors have electricity.
Her brother Clair, who lives in Indiana, called the power company after the June 29 storm to report his mother's outage. Operators told him electricity would be restored July 2.
Her other brother, James, who lives in Florida, called Appalachian Power a few days later.
They told him the family would need to hire an electrician before the power company could restore service, because the tree that took down the power lines also ripped lines from the house.
Louise wondered about that explanation because workers hadn't been to the house yet. She said there was no way for them to have determined the severity of the situation.
"The box is still out there. They just need to come and do their job," she said.
Power crews repaired the lines into the home Wednesday evening.
"I'm getting tired of pioneer days. Taking care of someone who's sick, you need to have all the tools you possibly can at your fingertips," Louise said. "Even when the electric's on, it's a pretty tough job."
Their generator, borrowed from Louise's brother Willis in Ohio, won't power Carrie's oxygen machine. She's been using tanked oxygen at night but that doesn't work as well. On Tuesday night, she had some trouble breathing. Louise thought her mother might be spitting up blood.
"I was really worried about her," she said.
Carrie also is worried. And tired. And frustrated. Louise said her mom doesn't want to make things hard on her daughter.
Louise said without the generosity and help of friends, they might not have made it. Neighbors regularly visited to help her start the generator. They also cut up the fallen tree and moved it out of the road.
A niece went to the home health supply store to pick up oxygen tanks when the company was too swamped to deliver them. Friends have stopped by to check on Louise and her mother, passing along the news they can't get.
"As I understand it, there was a boil-water notice. I didn't know anything about it until somebody came and (told us)," she said.
Calls and messages for Appalachian Power spokesman Phil Moye were not returned Wednesday.
by Zack Harold
Daily Mail staff