The weather forecast warned of thunderstorms following the record breaking heat but no one predicted what happened on a Friday night, June 29, 2012. A highly unusual storm system called a ‘derecho,’ much like a tornado but bigger and far more dangerous tore through several states knocking down trees, power lines, killing at least 12 people, and knocking out power to over two million homes and business. Disaster declarations were pronounced in several states including the area where I live.
No electricity meant no air conditioning in the midst of a record heat wave. For many it also meant no water. At first, living without power seemed more like an inconvenience but as news spread that our blackout could last for days or even weeks the situation became far more serious and dangerous.
Many of the grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and convenient stores we depended upon were themselves without power. Only a few islands of retail establishments remained open. Soon, thousands of needy people descended upon them and for many, chaos ensued. Those without power desperately needed ice, batteries and water yet there was only so much to go around.
In the blackout of 2012, there were hoarders and there were helpers.
At one of the few open grocery stores, one person broke in front of several others, tossed multiple bags of ice into his cart and sped off. The scowl on his face said it all. Soon after that same incident, another person began to take ice bags and distribute them equally, one bag at a time to those in line. Some of the younger began to help the elderly. Others voluntarily stepped away from the line for those with greater needs.
A gas station was clogged with angry consumers trying to push their way in front. Police officers were called. Another gas station was managed by an employee who calmly lined up all of the waiting cars. Those who broke the line were refused gas. Long lines soon became shorter and tensions eased.
As extra utility crews were called in, power is being restored in pockets all around us much faster than predicted in some cases, not fast enough in others. Yet the tensions gradually eased as more and more people found ways to cope and also help those who were in a more desperate situation.
A severe crisis has a way of exposing the best and the worst in us. The blackout of 2012 was no exception. There are many people who gave of themselves to help others. Thank you.
- Thank you to the many churches and other public buildings who offered their facilities to thousands of needy people in order to provide food, water, and a place to escape the heat.
- Thank you to the thousands of utility workers who left their families to spend 16 to 18 hour days repairing the damage and restoring our electricity.
- Thank you for the many police officers, medical workers and fire fighters who worked extra shifts to care for us.
- Thank you to the many businesses that opened their doors and went the extra mile to offer us a place to cool off and receive a little comfort.
- Thank you to the many nameless heroes who helped stranded relatives, friends and strangers.
As the electricity is restored, our regular life resumes and the Blackout of 2012 will soon fade into a distant memory. But we will never forget the generosity and kindness of so many who reached out to others and to us. It’s a simple gesture really, but maybe that is the very best testimony of who we are.