Power outage creates a different July Fourth than most are used to
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Fourth of July was a more somber affair than usual for Heather and Jerry Chaffee.
The Sissonville couple and their four children were spending Independence Day at an overnight shelter in Kanawha City after a string of violent thunderstorms knocked out their power. Fireworks and the customary barbecue cookout were afterthoughts for the Chaffees; they just wanted their power back on.
"It's going to be different," said Heather, sitting on a forest-green cot with nonperishable food stacked in the room around her. "We don't know when we're going to get our power back on, but we hope it's going to be soon."
As hundreds of thousands in the state continued to battle scorching heat and no power on the July Fourth holiday, community shelters like the Kanawha City Community Center were flooded with families seeking food, water and lodging.
More than 100 people from Clendenin to Sissonville have visited the cooling station at Kanawha City Community Center each day, said manager Jennifer Holley. Between 35 and 45 people have spent the night on makeshift cots sandwiched throughout the community center since the shelter opened on Saturday.
"We've been relying on the kindness of people's hearts for food and supplies," said Holley. "People have been wonderful."
Heather said she and her family packed up and headed to Kanawha City on Saturday after an unbearably hot night without air conditioning had their two-month-old baby boy "laying there and gasping for air" in the night heat.
"We decided the heat was too dangerous," Heather said. "So we came here."
They weren't the only ones.
Glenn Ferris residents Chris Koch and Meghan Shaw were the first family to seek refuge at the shelter at Kanawha City on Saturday. Friday's storm knocked out their electricity and water, so they packed up their three kids and headed toward Charleston.
"We rode around calling all the hotels in the area and eventually called the Red Cross," said Koch. "If we wouldn't have found this shelter, we would have been sleeping in the car. It's been a blessing here."
The Kanawha City shelter and the Salvation Army have provided food, water and comforting words to people reeling from power outages. Local residents have chipped in as well-Holley said one college student has stopped by the shelter each day to deliver cupcakes.
"The cupcakes are my favorite," piped in Kayleigh Shaw, age 7.
While many were displaced and disoriented by the power outages, people in Kanawha County still tried to maintain a semblance of Fourth of July festivity.
More than 40 people flocked to the First Church of the Nazarene in South Charleston for a classic Fourth of July BBQ.
"We wanted to do something special for the holiday for people who had lost power," said Jennie Miller, a church staff member.
Church members stood outside in 95-degree heat and flipped hundreds of hot dogs and hamburgers to give locals without power a taste of a typical Independence Day.
The church opened Saturday as a cooling station and since then, Miller said there has been a steady stream of people in and out. Some come and read books, others charge laptops or watch movies.
Janie Hunt has been a regular at the first Church of the Nazarene after the storm left her without power. She spent Wednesday enjoying hot dogs and potato salad at the church.
"This is the longest I've ever been without power," said Hunt. "The heat is so unbearable."
Hunt said she didn't have special Fourth of July plans this year - the power outage doused much of the holiday excitement, though she appreciated the church's food.
"What can you really do for the Fourth?" Hunt asked. "You certainly can't cook."
Carolyn and Stanley Johnson traveled from Lincoln County to visit a relative in South Charleston after they lost power. They ended up spending their Fourth of July at the First Church of the Nazarene in South Charleston with scores of other people in the same boat.
"This is really nice," said Carolyn Johnson, working on a plateful of coleslaw and potato salad. "I wish more churches would do this."
Miller said that while the power outages throughout the state have caused headaches and annoyances, "emergencies really pull people together," she said.
"And when it's all over, you feel good because everyone's pitching in. That's what matters."
Reach Amy Julia Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4814.