News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

December 30, 2011

IBEW Retiree Club restores electricity to house damaged in spring storm

TERRE HAUTE — A northside Terre Haute woman who has been without electrical service since the May 25 storm will soon be able to turn on her lights, thanks to the efforts of some retired electricians.

The woman, 62, who asked to remain unnamed, said she couldn’t afford the repairs needed to her meter base and outdoor wiring for Duke Energy to safely restore her electricity.

She also had let her homeowners insurance lapse. “My situation was my own fault,” she said. She lives in the Collett Park area that sustained serious damage from downed limbs and trees during the powerful May 25 storm.

Since that storm, she’s had no electricity. She’s used candles for light and two propane heaters. When she needed hot showers, she went to a neighbor’s. She was able to use her gas stove to cook, and she used a small book light to read.

All that will soon change, perhaps as early as today.

The woman’s supervisor at her place of employment was concerned for her welfare, with the worst of winter yet to come. Her boss contacted the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, IBEW Local 725, to see if they could help.

On Thursday, a sunny and unusually warm winter day, three IBEW retirees — John McMullen, Don May and Frank Mershon — spent an hour volunteering their expertise so the woman’s electrical power can be restored.

“I feel bad we didn’t know about it sooner,” said McMullen, who is president of the IBEW retirees’ club. “She suffered all summer long with no air and not even a fan.”

They learned of the woman’s circumstances  about 10 days ago, he said. With cold winter weather approaching, “She needed to have something done,” McMullen said.

The woman, who lives on North 12th Street, was touched by the retirees’ efforts. “I’ve never had anybody do anything for me like this,” she said. “I’ve always paid my way. I’m beyond grateful for this,” she said, overcome with emotion.

The bad storm also destroyed a carport and damaged her fence. She never obtained an estimate to find out what it would cost to make the electrical repairs, but believed it would be too expensive for her, based on what neighbors paid for similar repairs. “I thought, I can do without,” she said.

She also had concerns her entire home might need to be rewired, something she could not afford.

When it got too hot during the summer, she and her sheltie would sleep in the basement. The rescue dog had never been in the basement before, and the first time she took him downstairs, “It was like dragging a cat to take a bath,” she said.

The woman has lived in her house since 1984, she said. She also rides her bike to work each day — about 2 1/2 miles one way — because her car doesn’t work. “It’s kept me in shape and kept my heart good,” she said.

Todd Thacker, IBEW 725 business manager, said the outside meter base was outdated and corroded and needed to be replaced. The meter base is the homeowners’ responsibility, he said.

“It was too corroded so they [Duke] would not reconnect it due to safety, which is understandable,” Thacker said. “It didn’t meet the national electrical code.”

When the woman’s boss contacted him, he talked with the retirees, who were more than willing to help. A local business, Evan and Ryan, donated materials.

The retirees’ efforts included putting in a new meter base and replacing the service entrance cable.

“We thought her situation was unique and we felt compelled by her living this long without it [electrical power],” Thacker said.

The city electrical inspector, George Korenski, also showed up and provided a  green tag, which lets Duke Energy know it’s safe to hook back up, Thacker said.

Rick Burger, Duke Energy district manager, said if the homeowner contacted the company Thursday, Duke planned to get a crew out today to restore her service.

He said he was not familiar with the details of the woman’s situation. “We’re not going to hook something unsafe,” he said.

While he could not address the woman’s specific case, he suggested that those who might have similar problems in the future get in touch with the utility. Potentially, Burger said, he could work with community agencies and try to arrange for volunteers.

As for the homeowner, asked what she most looked forward to once electricity is restored, she said, “having lights and being able to roll my hair up and look decent when I go to work.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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