LUMBERTON — In one instant on Friday afternoon, hundreds of Robesonians finally found themselves under bright and welcome lights after being without power for 12, 24 or even 48 hours — although many more still remain in the dark following the winter storm that dumped snow and freezing rain on the county for three days.
“God is good!” shouted one employee walking into work at Billy Cox Market on N.C. 41 and Old Allenton Road shortly after power was restored to 300 Duke Energy customers in the area at about 11:30 a.m. About 3,700 customers in the county were still without power at about 5 p.m. Friday, down from 5,200 just two hours earlier.
Billy Cox, the owner, said his family’s business has been up and running for 48 years and has seen setbacks before, including the last winter storm, which hit with similar force about two weeks ago. Cox was able to get a generator to power two ceiling lights and a cash register in his corner market, allowing the store to remain open during the storm.
Even with the generator, the store was significantly dimmer, Cox said, and he was not able to sell gasoline, a major source of the store’s revenue. The store’s power went out at about 7 p.m. on Thursday, an entire day later than many residents in the area.
In the half an hour after the lights came back on, the little store saw nearly 50 customers, most of whom seemed to be treating themselves after hours spent in the dark. Cox said potato chips — not bread and milk like before the storm — were flying off the shelves.
“They’re just coming in telling me how long their power has been out — some of them three days, some of them eight hours, some 12,” he said.
Even though it means he has to work, Cox is thankful to finally be seeing the light.
“I need to work to make money and make my living,” he said.
A Duke Energy crew parked in the lot said customers have been happy to see them, although it wasn’t always easy to get to them or their power lines.
Some roads in the county remain a little slushy, though sunny skies have largely melted the frost. However, many roads around the Littlefield Middle School area are dirt — or rather thick, sticky mud now that the snow has melted.
The workers also had some technical difficulties of their own.
Ironically, the lights went out on some of the trucks Friday morning and a maintenance worker had to come restore them before the field technicians could continue their work.
“We fixed his lights so we can fix your lights,” the employee said, declining to share his name because of company policy.
Not everyone is basking under newly-restored lights.
Many people along N.C. 41 and N.C. 211 in Lumberton, as well as in Fairmont, Marietta, Orrum, Proctorville and Raynham, are still cold, bored and tired of the dark.
For Earl Todd, a disabled Vietnam war veteran, having electricity is more than a luxury, it’s a necessity. Todd lives on Forest Road, in Lumberton’s Forest Acres area.
Todd, who said he was sprayed with Agent Orange during the war, suffers from spinal deterioration, heart disease and nerve damage. He sleeps with an oxygen mask, which requires electricity, as does his adult daughter. His wife is on chemotherapy.
Todd’s power went out at about 2 a.m. on Wednesday, he said. Many of his neighbors on nearby streets never lost power, he said. A breaker that serves his part of the street was damaged during the storm.
“You could hear the thing on the pole. It sounded like a rifle shot when it flipped,” he said.
Todd said he called Duke Energy to report the damage.
“I kept trying to explain it to these people and they said ‘it looks like to me you need to rent a hotel room,’” he said.
Todd said he got a generator today to heat and power his home.
“You can’t cook, you can’t take a bath because you’ve got no hot water, and when you’re disabled it’s hard enough to get anything done,” he said.
Todd would normally go to a clinic for veterans in Pembroke for medical care, but because of treacherous roads and power outages, the clinic had to close Wednesday and open late on Thursday.
“I didn’t think I needed to go to the hospital, I just needed electricity,” Todd said.
At 2 p.m. on Friday, 4,000 Duke Energy employees were working throughout the state to restore power to about 78,000 customers, down from 90,000 just five hours earlier.
At highest count, nearly 8,200 customers in Robeson County were without power. Duke Energy estimates all the lights will be back on in the county by 11:45 p.m. on Saturday.
It will all be a memory next week, when temperatures will gradually climb and will bump up against 80 degrees on Thursday is the weatherman is correct.