Hardships mount for Michigan customers without power

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Six days after losing power, Artavia Ballard and her husband, James, would like to be back in their Detroit home.

They tried to rough it out on Wednesday, the first night storms knocked the electricity out, but ultimately asked to stay with her aunt, who lives nearby and has power. It would be better for the family and especially their two young children, who were born premature and need supplemental oxygen.

But they spent Monday afternoon in their car, trying to avoid being a burden. Ballard, 21, ate a corned beef roll as James, 32, slept.

From the sidewalk outside her home on the 6600 block of Floyd, Ballard can see the DTE Energy Warren Service Center, a training facility where linemen gather before heading out to do repairs. She wondered how much closer she needed to be to get her power restored.

"How patient do you have to be?" Ballard asked. "And for how long?"

More than 21,000 DTE Energy and Consumers Energy customers remained without power early Tuesday, a nearly a week after storms disrupted electrical service for more than 850,000 homes and businesses across Michigan. Both utility companies report Tuesday that more than 99 percent of their customers have power.

DTE said Tuesday that some of its customers may have their service restored by the end of the day while others may not get their power back until at least 11:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of Consumers Energy customers may have electricity as soon as the end of Tuesday, said Debra Dodd, a company spokeswoman.

"There may be a little spill over into Wednesday, but we've got more than 300 crews working in the Coldwater area and more than 100 in the Jackson area," she said. "There are stretches, some a mile long, where we have to rebuild the entire infrastructure, including poles and wires."

At any rate, frustration only grew Monday from Detroit to some of its wealthiest suburbs.

Sharon Renee Ridley, 62, of Detroit said she has been without power since last Wednesday. A neighbor let her connect to his generator so she could run power to the basement to help make things tolerable for her brother, who struggles to walk.

Attorney General Dana Nessel asked Consumers and DTE voluntarily to give automatic credit to customers whose power went out during the latest severe weather event. She also requested they provide additional support to those have lost food or have had to seek alternative housing. 

Consumers Energy said Monday it will continue to follow state regulatory policy that allows customers who have lost power for several days to request an outage credit. DTE Energy said it is working to make access to the credit "as easy as possible" and has already reached out to some qualifying customers who will have their accounts credited with a certain amount of money within 45 days. 

In the days since the storm, Ballard said she has received no relief. There were estimates of a Sunday night restoration, neighbors said, but that did not happen.

The DTE Energy Outage Map late Monday gave an estimate of restored power by Tuesday at 11:30 p.m. 

"The whole refrigerator was full" last Wednesday, when the winds blew and her power went out after a shopping trip the day before, Ballard said. She said she had to watch as her husband tossed out $400 worth of spoiled food.

Daughter Brooklyn, 3, and son James Jr., 1, were both born premature and both need oxygen, Ballard said. Three portable, battery-operated oxygen tanks cost $225. 

"This is not good," Ballard said. "With this going on, and with their health condition, it's bad."

Problems compounded

This isn't the family's first collision with bad weather. During the June 25 rainstorm, which caused massive flooding in the area, Ballard's 1999 Honda Civic got water damage as she was driving along Interstate 94 with her children, and it had to be totaled. But it was insured. 

The family ended up paying cash for a Saturn SUV from Charity Motors, Ballard said.

Then she came home to a flooded basement.  

"We don't receive any type of government help or Bridge cards, so that's cash," Ballard said. 

Neighbor Sharon Renee Ridley, 62, is taking care of a brother who only has one hand and struggles to walk. After the late June storm, she had to bleach out her flooded basement to preserve his living space.

On Monday, a neighbor allowed Ridley to hook up to his generator, allowing there to be power in the basement, so her brother can be somewhat comfortable.

Wasted food is part of her problem. The cost of replacing it is another. She's mostly been ordering carryout food since the storms hit.

"It's a headache," Ridley said. "We didn't get any help last (storm), and we haven't gotten any help now. And people who don't need help have gotten plenty."

The situation was less dire but still frustrating in West Bloomfield Township, where a section of houses near Pontiac Trail remained Monday morning without power. 

Trekking for well water

"Mother Nature is very angry at us, for whatever reason," said Dennis Lietz, 78, of West Bloomfield Township.

More:Power may not be restored until next week for some in southeast Michigan

Lietz had his golf cart all loaded up for a trek to a portion of Upper Straits Lake owned by the neighborhood.

His plan was to bring multiple water jugs, which he'd fill so he and wife Betsy could flush their toilet. He'd bring tablets and cellphones to charge at the beachfront pavilion, which does have power.

It was all ready to go Monday morning until he heard a buzzing sound overhead and looked outside. Then he stayed because help had arrived.

 It was a crew from Wright Tree Trimming, an Iowa-based company, thinning out the trees in his backyard.

"The sound of chainsaws, cutting down broken tree limbs, it was a symphony," Lietz told The Detroit News. "To me, it was the most relaxing music."

The homes in the area were estimated to have power restored by 11:30 p.m. Monday.

Though last week was hot, with six straight days above 85 degrees, the weekend cooled, never hitting 80, allowing some small measure of comfort.

Even people who have generators don't want to run them 24/7.

"Our whole house is electric," Betsy said. "We don't have no gas stove, nothing."

A neighbor let the Lietzes borrow a generator, which costs about $10 a day in gas to fill up. The couple are members of a nearby gym, allowing them access to shower facilities. They've charged phones and tablets while driving around. 

"If my wife and I had a young family, this would be much more involved," Lietz said. "But this is testing our patience."

Nick Zajac, 70, a retiree of the U.S. Postal Service, said a chunk of the homes in the neighborhood are still on well water, including his.

"Besides a refrigerator and the lights, we've got to run a well pump, which draws a fair amount of juice," Zajac said. 

The trees in the neighborhood are many decades old, he noted.

"They're silver maples," Zajac said. "Not the sturdiest thing. They're old, and a lot of branches came down."

DTE Energy trucks were parked on the block, ready to take over the second the tree-trimming was done. 

"You don't appreciate (power) until you're without it for any length of time," Zajac said. "Normally, we don't have power loss like this. You might have to reset your clock. But this is a whole different ball game."


Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.