AP NEWS

Power outage during rain storm becomes harrowing experience for Huffman residents

May 17, 2019

For most people the consequences of a power outage range from an inconvenience to a frustration, but for some the consequences can be much more dire.

Vernon Reed, a resident of Lakewood Townhomes in Huffman has a rare lung condition that he likens to a severe form of asthma. He needs the air to be a certain temperature to function.

“If I get really, really hot, I’ll get to coughing real bad where I can’t catch my breath,” he said. “If I get really, really cold, the same thing will happen, so I have to be at a medium. So power for me so I can adjust the temperature is very, very important. I would say to the point where it’s a matter of life or death for me.”

Reed is registered with CenterPoint Energy’s critical care list — so his apartment is a priority for restoring power after an outage.

When Hurricane Harvey hit the area, Reed’s power went out early in the morning and was restored by mid-afternoon, about eight hours later. However, when the power went out on the night of May 9, it took about 42 hours for his electricity to be restored.

He checked into a nearby Holiday Inn, which had power.

“I couldn’t afford that, but I had no other choice. It was either go to a hotel or stay here and wind up in the emergency room. I think the hotel would have probably been a little bit cheaper,” Reed said as he laughed lightly.

Medicinal challenges

Fellow Lakewood Townhomes resident Kevin Stripling is bedridden. He has diabetes as well as other health complications. He is also on CenterPoint’s critical care list.

Stripling was watching TV in his hospital-style bed when the power went out, and he was unable to adjust his position. He had to sleep that way, uncomfortably. He was also at an increased risk for pressure sores.

Stripling’s daughter Michelle, who lives in the apartment next door and helps take care of him, was worried about his insulin, which gets ruined when it gets above 86 degrees, she said.

She spent all day Friday going back and forth between her apartment and his, checking on him, opening the window to give him some air flow, and closing it again when it started raining.

Aside from chips, crackers and other starchy items, which would have spiked Kevin’s blood sugar level, all the food in the refrigerator went bad. Michelle had an ice box where she kept the insulin but was trying to minimize the number of times she opened and closed it.

A woman whom the family did not know brought them frozen ice packs in the middle of the day Friday. Michelle added those and water bottles to the cooler to help keep Kevin cool and not put more stress on his heart, which are among the medical conditions Kevin struggles with.

Hurricane season brings worries

The power was restored in the Lakewood Townhomes late that Saturday afternoon around 4 p.m. Kevin was finally able to adjust his bed to get in a comfortable position. Neither Reed nor Kevin suffered any lasting complications from the power outage, but with hurricane season starting on June 1, but they’re worried about a possible bigger storm with more damage.

“If this was something where we’d have had to go days or weeks, you might have been reporting on fatalities rather than sitting here talking to us,” Reed stated bluntly.

“Honestly, the thought scares me,” Michelle said similarly about what could happen with a power outage lasting several days to weeks.

To get on the critical care list a person needs to get a letter from his or her doctor. CenterPoint (or any other energy company) needs to approve the request and communicate that approval to a customer.

“Preparation is the key, but again, how much can you prepare for it? I surely thought that, being critical care, we were prepared with CenterPoint, but apparently, the ball was dropped somewhere,” Reed said.

“Something needs to be done. We have plenty of elected officials, and they need to look into this and change the way things are handled on this side of the river,” he concluded.

elliott.lapin@hearst.com