Delta loses power Christmas morning

Sunday, December 26, 2004

A cold Christmas Day started off even colder for residents of Delta because of a five-hour power outage.

For fire and police department personnel in Cape Girardeau and Jackson, it was another day at work. And for inmates at the Cape Girardeau County Jail, it was a time to visit with immediate family, but not because it was Christmas -- Saturday is the regular visiting day.

At Delta, it was 6 degrees below zero at 5 a.m. That's when the electricity went off because of an equipment failure, according to AmerenUE.

Delta resident Roger Moore said he woke up around that time and knew immediately something was wrong.

"It was horrible," Moore said. "Thank goodness for a gas cook stove."

The outage affected the entire community, Moore said, and most of the residents have all-electric homes. But even those with gas heat were shivering because the blowers are run by electricity.

"I put on my robe and had on my pajamas," said Frances Evelyn Simpher, who lives at the all-electric Delta Villa senior citizens housing. "I have a cover on my couch, like a throw; I laid on the couch. I had a cold morning."

Not only was the electricity off, but some residents' telephone service was sporadic, Moore said. So he and some other people who were up early had to go around town to reach people to let them know that the First Baptist Church was open to anyone who wanted to come in and get warm.

The church has its own generator, said the Rev. Eric Hodge. Hodge said he opened the doors to the church and left them open for anyone to come in and get warm.

A Delta School District official got a school van and drove around town offering rides to the church to people who needed them, Moore said.

Several did, said alderwoman Tammy Erlbacher.

"Most of them stayed about an hour, and then the electricity came back on," she said.

By the time the power came back on at 10 a.m., the temperature at Delta was 14 degrees, according to In Erlbacher's home, it was 50.

"That's cold when you're used to it being about 70," she said.

Simpher, 82, didn't risk going to the church for fear of slipping on ice. But she was able to find humor in the situation. She said she chuckled when the AmerenUE service representative advised her not to go outside.

"That tickled me," she said. "I thought who in the heck would go outside on a morning like that with no heat in the house?"

Dinner plans -- or not

Firefighters and police officers worked their celebrations around their shifts. They are accustomed to working some holidays.

"I don't want to say Christmas is just another day," said Jackson fire Capt. Steve Grant. "But in the firehouse it's another day."

Cape Girardeau fire chief Rick Ennis said that training was suspended for the day, and the staff had more free time in between fire or emergency medical calls.

A dinner for all the fire stations at one location had been planned, Ennis said, but there was no way for all of them to meet at one place and not leave the firetrucks out in the cold, so instead each fire station planned to cook its own Christmas dinner.

Jackson firefighters don't even plan a Christmas dinner, Grant said.

"If we schedule something, we'll have a bunch of runs," he said. "If we don't schedule anything, we probably would not have a single run."

Cape Girardeau firefighters got to enjoy some down time, with the possibility of families coming by to share a meal. Grant said Jackson residents often come by during the day with their children, who want to see a fire engine or have their photo taken on one.

Police patrols on Christmas are usually uneventful, said Cape Girardeau police Capt. Carl Kinnison.

"Normally in the early morning things are pretty quiet," Kinnison said. "In the afternoon things pick up a little bit. Typically it's pretty quiet all day."

But at the jail, said a spokesman for the sheriff's department, inmates had to find their own ways to acknowledge the holiday. There is no special dinner, just standard jail fare. And the jail has strict rules about what visitors can bring in: only socks and underwear. Anything else has to be purchased at the commissary.

Inmates have access to ministers throughout the week, according to the sheriff's department, so there were no special pastoral visits with a Christmas message.

335-6611, extension 160

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