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Power Crisis Wearing Thin For Chicago Area Residents

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ComEd crews work to restore power to the hundreds of thousands of customers still in the dark after the storm Monday. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 07/14/11 2:20 p.m.

DES PLAINES, Ill. (CBS) — Patience is wearing thin, as nearly 100,000 customers in Chicago and the suburbs remain without power now four days after the brief, but violent, storm that caused their condition.

On Thursday afternoon, ComEd said it should have electricity restored to everybody by midnight on Friday. The utility recruited hundreds of out-of-state utility workers to help with repairs.

In a news release, the utility said the storm’s impact was on par with a hurricane. It said restoration times on those kinds of storms range from seven to 10 days.

The storm brought heavy rain, 18,000 lightning strikes and wind gusts of 80 mph causing extensive tree damage and bringing down power lines.

As of 10 a.m. Thursday, a total of 97,000 ComEd customers remained without power from the Monday morning storm. That figure comprised 73,000 customers in the northern suburbs, 16,000 in the far western suburbs, 4,000 in the city of Chicago, and 2,500 in the southern suburbs.

About 850,000 customers lost power in the storm on Monday, one of the worst outages in ComEd history.

As is the case in many suburban towns, some neighbors in Des Plaines, residents of only one side of the street were still waking up in the dark Thursday. Going for days without power has meant a drastic change in the daily routine.

Lorene Watson, 79, of Des Plaines, is among those who have been without power since Monday. Her children have offered their homes, or offered to put her up in a hotel, but she chose to remain her house where it’s comfortable.

“I am sort of a pioneer,” said Watson, who has been going to sleep when the sun goes down and waking up at sunrise, and quipped that she might as well be driving a horse and buggy.

Watson took CBS 2 around a tour of her home to explain how her day works during the outage.

Her freezer is full of food that will have to be thrown away, but she has bought a small bottle of skim milk to use for her breakfast. She has been making grocery runs about twice a day.

Watson also has four landline phones, and one cell phone. But none of the landline phones work, “so I haven’t heard from any friends or anybody since Monday.”

When she has to go to the bathroom late at night, the problem of the lack of light there has also been solved.

“My daughter brought over a huge flashlight that’s on in my bedroom so I don’t stumble and fall,” she said.

In spite of al the readjustments, Watson says she’s not blaming ComEd for keeping her in the dark.

“They’ve done a great job, you know, they really have,” she said. “They’ve been around and they’ve been very personable. Maybe other people wouldn’t, but I’d give them high marks. They’re trying.”

So what Watson she learned from this week of being powerless?

“If you have electricity, then the world’s your oyster.”

Watson has been told her power will be back on by Friday. In all of Des Plaines, 935 customers remained without power Thursday morning.

But not everyone has been quite so philosophical and optimistic about the situation as Watson. For many, Thursday was day four of being, and feeling, powerless.

“It’s really been a total inconvenience,” said Nancy Churchill of Evanston.

“I work from home, and we have no electricity. We have no cell phone,” said Donald Churchill of Evanston.

In Glenview, Ken Rapelport in his family set up a barbecue, with candles whipping in the breeze and a full grill. But emptying out his thawing freezer was not the way Rapelport wanted to break in his new Kingsford grill.

“Unfortunate, but what can we do?” he said. “I threw a lot more a way than I was able to cook.”

Everyone walked away stuffed and happy, and what the people didn’t eat, the dogs did.

ComEd says Rapelport is one of the unlucky customers who won’t have power until Saturday. So what does he do now?

“We either eat out, which is costly, or a lot of peanut butter and jelly,” he said.

The power has been coming back on in some places. In eastern Wilmette, the power was restored around 6 p.m. Wednesday after about 60 hours in the dark, CBS 2 Political Producer Ed Marshall reported.

ComEd insists crews are working as quickly as possible. They have 380 crews from seven states –as far away as Tennessee – assisting their efforts.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts reports

In Libertyville, crews are coordinating their response through a mobile incident command center.

“Sometimes it’s bad,” said Greg Parks of the out-of-state firm Service Electric. “A lot of the lines are down in the backyard. It makes it more difficult to get to and work on.”

ComEd picked up transformers, poles and wires, while dispatchers coordinated where the problems were.

“Multiple poles down, locations where you have about nine, 10, 11 poles that have been completely destroyed,” said Daniel Brea of ComEd.

ComEd spokeswoman Arlana Johnson emphasized Thursday morning that patience is the only option.

“We do understand customers’ frustration, and they should know that we are working as quickly as we can to get them restored,” she said. “We have 850 crews in the field today that will be working all day to get power restored to the remaining customers.”

Since the storms caused so much damage to so many power lines and other pieces of equipment, restoring power has taken far longer than usual, Johnson said.

“The outages that we’ve been seeing are a lot more difficult and time-consuming to restore. They do involve attention to more individualized equipment, so it takes, in some instances, several hours of work – or even a couple of days of work, in order to get power restored to a particular area,” she said. “So it’s just a very time-consuming, tedious process.”

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