Frustration coupled with a degree of desperation is growing among Lansing-area residents who have waited days for power
LANSING TWP, Mich.-- Increasingly desperate for power and warmth, Dave Behnke's cold, wet, icy week had him in tears Thursday in the neighborhood he calls "the forgotten zone."
"Everybody apologizes, everybody's sorry" about the loss of power, he said from his basement as a generator-powered sump pump sucked at the water pooling across the floors.
"But now it's past that. We need help. We're desperate," he said. "Somebody needs to do something. It's time."
Frustration coupled with a degree of desperation is growing among Lansing-area residents who have waited days for power — and heat — to come back on in their homes, neighborhoods and senior facilities. Some blame utilities such as the Lansing Board of Water & Light. Some just want relief.
Behnke, 60, described the generator as the difference between life and death. He moves it between his home and the basements of two neighbors in the 300 block of Brynford not far from the open fields where General Motors Co. plants once stood between West Saginaw Street and Michigan Avenue.
"There's only four or five of us left out here," he said. "Everybody else has abandoned their houses" since last weekend's ice storm.
Behnke said he drove to Port Huron on Monday to pick up the $500 generator, returning home late and placing it on a small porch alongside his driveway. Just after 11 p.m., the generator went silent, which brought him outside.
It was gone.
"I (saw) at the end of the driveway two people carrying my generator," Behnke said. "So, I went after them and caught them about another hundred feet up the road and got hold of one and he dropped it."
The other thief held firm. But Behnke, who lost a tooth in an ensuing struggle, got his generator back.
"They told me the next day at the police department there'd been mine and four other ones stolen and I was the only one who got mine back because I chased the guys," Behnke said.
The Lansing Township man planned to take his generator to help others in his neighborhood.
"I will take this (generator) a little bit later and get (to) some more basements," Behnke said. "At night, because it's my generator and maybe I'm being selfish, but I use it for heat 'cause I don't want to leave the house."
Behnke said many nearby homes are vulnerable to break-ins because their owners have left them empty, going elsewhere looking for warmth. He questioned why Lansing Board of Water & Light repair crews had not been in his neighborhood all week.
"We always get left till the last," Behnke said. "We call ourselves 'the forgotten zone.'"
BWL spokesman Steve Serkaian understands the growing frustration among the roughly 4,000 customers still without power.
"We don't look at our community the way the resident (Behnke) characterized it," he said. "We prioritize the lines with circuits with the greatest number of customers after public safety priorities.
"This has been an unprecedented storm. We have 10 crews out in the community around the clock. We're simply asking people to be patient until we get to their area."
Serkaian did not have an estimated time for repairs in Behnke's neighborhood.
But General Manager J. Peter Lark said BWL would try to reduce the number of customers without power to fewer than 1,000 by Sunday night.
Senior center dark
Meanwhile, nearly a dozen elderly people are stuck at an East Lansing senior housing site. They have nowhere to go — and no power or heat where they live.
Millie Hogan, the manager of Independence Village of East Lansing, said the senior housing center's population — with an average age of 84 — was down from 150 to the 11 people who had no other place to go.
"We can't get a response from the Board of Water & Light," she said. "What I need is for them to put us on a priority list, to get our people back and take care of those who are in now. We've been out way too long."
By midafternoon, Serkaian said a repair crew was working on the circuit that included Independence Village. BWL expected to have power restored later Thursday.
The utility previously had restored power to several senior housing centers such as Burcham Hills in East Lansing and Cedar Place in south Lansing.
"At some point, owners of these (senior housing) facilities have to take stock and assist the utilities by removing residents to a safer area till power can be restored," Serkaian said.
In Mason, Mich., abundant trees that crisscross and intertwine with each other on Mark Street — a picturesque scene in summer and fall — cracked, broke and fell.
"I couldn't sleep that first night because there were so many branches falling it didn't seem to stop," said Martin Colburn, Mason's city administrator and a Mark Street resident.
"It was raining branches. Now, our street looks like a disaster zone. I think we got it the worst in the city."
Colburn said he had Chinese food warmed up by microwave for his Christmas dinner.
Branches were piled five feet high all along the street Thursday as generators hummed. Consumers Energy said it hoped to have power restored by Saturday.