|By CINDY LADAGE
VIRDEN, Ill. — The day after Thanksgiving, central Illinois residents were walking around in short sleeves.
Many farmers - not yet done with anhydrous applications - were able to complete their fieldwork, and several pushed a bit on Wednesday evening when they heard that a winter storm was on the way.
With temperatures lurking just shy of 70 degrees F., it seemed an unlikely threat. But, this time, the forecasters had it right, and Illinois’ midsection was hit with an inch or so of rain, followed by ice on Thursday, and snow that evening.
On Nov. 30, central Illinois residents started to hear the ominous tinkling of ice, followed by the hollow cracking of tree branches as they fell from trees landing on an ice/snow mix. Tree branches were followed by poles and electric lines breaking and cutting power for many.
Fire was a worry for residents, and a reality for a few. Schools started closing around 1 p.m. for students in Pawnee, Divernon, Auburn and Virden.
By Friday morning, much of central Illinois was without power, and schools were closed for Friday along with many businesses, too. Ameren Utility reported more than 520,000 people were without power in Illinois and Missouri after snow and ice snapped power lines.
Many residents took refuge with relatives or stayed in overbooked hotels in Springfield. Others flocked to White Oaks Mall and restaurants just to keep warm.
“If I was made to live without electricity, I would have been born back in the 1800s,” said Jane Waterman of Nokomis. “I’m an electricity type of girl.”
Although power has been restored in many central Illinois communities by Monday, others still are struggling and waiting for that blink indicating the lights are coming back on.
In Pawnee, Ill., the United Methodist Church had to cancel services because power was still out on Sunday. The town is divided by a railroad track with residents on one side with power, and the other side without.
For those who were without power for a day or so, the cleaning out has begun.
“I had to throw out a whole garbage bag full of food,” said Lora Disque of Pawnee. Freezers and refrigerators filled with food went to waste with worries of spoilage.
Many in rural areas holed up together or shared generators where they were able. Families huddled together around fireplaces piling on the blankets.
One elderly gentleman in a café in Auburn, Ill. recounted, “I had my clothes on, my coat on, a robe and was wound up in blankets. It was all right as long as I stayed in bed, but when I got up, I thought I’d never get warm again.”
Rural Electric Utility (REU), which serves many central Illinois communities, required assistance from surrounding states to get their customers back online. “We have 23 crews from out of state helping out,” said an REU customer service representative over the weekend.
While kids enjoyed a day off from school on Friday, most were ready to let the thaw begin. With temperatures below freezing, a thaw isn’t forecast soon.
Rural roads are still ice covered and slick landing many motorists in the ditch.
This farm news was published in the Dec. 6, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.