Long power outages have fostered sense of community

It's not the fact that the power went out, but how long it's out that matters.
That's what thousands of Barnwell County residents learned the hard way this past week after Winter Storm Pax knocked out electricity across the region, leaving utility workers a daunting task and families cold in the dark.
Homes began losing power shortly after the ice storm arrived Feb. 11. But it was during the early, freezing hours of Wednesday that a domino effect of outages swept across the county after frozen tree limbs, and sometimes whole trees, fell and damaged electrical lines.
Utility workers were out Feb. 12 and many people had their power restored that day -- for a few lucky ones the power stayed on. But then Wednesday night brought with it more freezing rain, and the lights started going out again, this time more and more, and most wouldn't come back on for days.
As of Tuesday, around 800 customers in Barnwell County were still without power, and crews with SCE&G, Edisto Electric and Aiken Electric were still working feverishly to get power back to people who may have started to think they were living in the 18th century.
Power companies outside the area have sent reinforcements for local efforts.
But many who have experienced long outages have been sharply critical.
Crystal Baxley, who lives on Starling Road outside of Barnwell, said Monday afternoon her power had been out since 10:30 a.m. Feb. 12. She has three children, including a 10-month-old baby. Baxley is an Edisto Electric customer.
She said they've been staying with her parents and in-laws. All the food in her fridge went bad. And on top of that her 15-year-son's foot was broken after a limb fell on it while he was cleaning up debris from the storm.
Her 10-month old has asthma, she said, but thankfully hasn't had an asthma attack during the outage.
Baxley said she was angry with Edisto Electric officials and that there was miscommunication and false information coming from the representatives she spoke to about her electricity. She said the date for getting her power back kept changing.
Baxley said her neighbors, also Edisto Electric customers, had their power back on. She also said she knows plenty of Edisto Electric customers who were still without power Monday.
She said she thinks the officials at the cooperative did a poor job of planning for the storm by waiting until after it had passed to bring in more utility workers.
"You can tell who is more organized and who is not," Baxley said about Edisto Electric and SCE&G.
Edisto Electric brought in crews from other states to assist in the restoration process, but the extra help didn't arrive until Friday.
SCE&G had extra help on the way before the storm hit. Their outage estimates on Monday were below 200 -- out of 7,150 customers in the county. Edisto Electric was at 900 out of 4,871.
"This is worse than what we had when Hurricane Hugo came through," said Robbin Hutto, spokeswoman for Edisto Electric, on Sunday. "We had 75 percent of our 20,000 customers impacted by this storm."
"We have even more crews coming in," said Hutto. "We have over 100 extra people as well as our normal staff and contract folks working 24/7."
Eric Eubanks, who lives on Balin Road in Williston, said his family had also been without power since Feb. 12. "Gotten frustrated plenty of times but through it all we've persevered," he said in a message on Facebook.
He said they have a generator, and the neighbors have come over and they've cooked plenty of food and had great fellowship together. But they will be rejoicing when the power comes back on, he added.
"God bless everyone who has worked so hard the past week and thank you so very much for the service," he said.
Monday, several other people, from all over the county, posted on The People-Sentinel's Facebook page that they still were without power.
Eubanks, an Edisto Electric customer, said Tuesday his power came back on Monday around 6 p.m. But Baxley said her power was still not on Tuesday morning.
Sooner or later, all the lights will come back on, and many say they will appreciate the comforts of modern life a little more.