Wakefield Estates was quiet Tuesday – aside from the steady hum of generators.
The Longs neighborhood lost power on Saturday night. Jim Hall fired up his generator.
Three days later, it was still running.
“About every day I go get a couple of tanks of gas,” he said, to keep the backup power supply running that he and his neighbors now depend on.
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More than 50,000 customers remained in the dark Tuesday as two electric companies struggled to return power to areas ravaged by Hurricane Matthew.
Living in the dark comes with its share of struggles – no hot shower, limited news from the outside world, no television to lull one off to sleep. But in the calm and quiet of life without electricity, something else emerges.
“Everybody’s helping everybody,” Hall said. “Some people you’ve never met have stopped by (asking), ‘Do you need anything? We’re going out to the store. Would you like for us to pick you up something?’ … I think it’s helped everybody get closer together.”
Hall had mentioned to a neighbor how much he would like a Payday candy bar the other day. The neighbor returned that night with a Payday in hand.
Hall doesn’t drink coffee, he says, but he had a coffee maker and he had power from the generator. He became a very popular man on the block.
“Everybody’s coming to my house for coffee in the mornings,” Hall said.
Hall’s house on Dovetail Court has been dubbed “Hallbucks.”
He raises the blinds to signal his friends along the street that the coffee is on.
“When the blinds (are) up, the coffee shop is open,” he said.
Hall doesn’t miss television.
“I miss a good hot shower. That’s about the only thing I miss,” he said, as he talked about cooking up a big meal last night that they shared with their neighbors.
“Even though it’s been hard, everybody has kind of pulled together,” Hall said. “Everybody is helping somebody out.”
Art McDonald’s neighbors loaned him some coolers.
“We lost just about everything we have in the fridge and the freezer,” McDonald said. “Luckily I have a barbecue grill and what I haven’t thrown away, I’m trying to cook up ahead of time. We went out and bought another camping stove and we’re cooking on that too, trying to get enough hot water to do dishes and little things like that.”
McDonald says the thing he misses most is the news.
“It’s like going back to the Stone Age almost,” he said, with a laugh. “I, in my younger days, did an awful lot of camping so it’s like, ‘oh well, I can remember how to do this.’ I’m just cooking over propane tanks now instead of a wood fire.
“But things like, well, ‘what’s the news?’ I don’t know. We know nothing about what’s been going on,” he said. “There could have been a major catastrophe some place and we wouldn’t have known.”
His wife purchased a battery-powered radio, he said, but all he had found to listen to on Tuesday was country music.
McDonald wanted to know when his power would be restored.
“Worst case scenario is two weeks and they are working their hearts out to get it done before that,” said Penelope Hinson, spokeswoman for the Horry Electric Cooperative.
Lineman crews have made great strides since they started trying to fix the damage that Hurricane Matthew left in its wake.
“Sunday morning, when we started out, we only had nine substations that had transmission going into them. We have 24 substations,” Hinson said. “Ninety-three percent of our system was down when Matthew left.”
But the hundreds of thousands of outages crews started with were whittled down to 25,000 as of 4 p.m. Tuesday and 13,279 four hours later.
Horry Electric has about 200 people working to restore power across the county. And crews are working 16 hours straight before they earn an 8-hour respite, Hinson said. “It really takes a special person to be a lineman.”
But prolonged outages can be frustrating.
“I was a little angry when I saw all the power trucks, from what I could see, taking care of the people with money that are screaming about losing money on the beach because their hotels don’t have electric,” McDonald said. “Well what about the people that pay the taxes and live here? I haven’t seen one truck on (S.C.) 90.”
The trucks were out on S.C. 90 Tuesday afternoon, working on lines a few blocks down.
“We’re not really in high visibility places,” Hinson said. “We’re out in the rural areas and it’s not going to be easy to see us but we are there.”
Utility companies are asking for patience. And although outages can be frustrating, the return of power can be such sweet victory.
“We were awfully thankful,” said Tara Hartman, whose power was restored Monday afternoon at her home in Seagate Village.
Several of her neighbors remained in the dark, but the area was buzzing with the sounds of chainsaws as neighbors cleaned up debris, rode bicycles and took in the beautiful weather under a Carolina blue sky.
Hartman’s 9-year-old son, Carter, said the power outage “was boring,” but they made the best of it.
In the long hours leading up to restoration her family used the time to walk the neighborhood, to enjoy the weather (post Matthew) and to play board games.
Five-year-old Nathaniel Hartman won a game of Checkers, he said – with his father’s help. He also challenged his brothers in games of Battleship.
“We made the best of what we could. It’s all you can do,” Tara Hartman said.
Mollie Gore, corporate communications manager for Santee Cooper, which supplies electricity to Seagate Village and much of Myrtle Beach, said that they started with an outage of about 137,000 customers after Matthew.
“This was a big storm,” Gore said. At 5 p.m., the outage was down to 29,757.
“We have brought on a lot of customers in the past two days, but I know it’s very frustrating for the customers who are still out,” Gore said. “We have about 450 people out there working to restore power to our retail customers and we’re going to stay out there until it’s done.”
Power should be restored by the end of the week for Santee Cooper customers.