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Rural Garrard homes still without power

LANCASTER — The light from James and Bertha Montgomery's television — powered by a gas-fueled generator humming outside — flickered on their faces in the dark room as Drew Carey readied contestants for the Showcase Showdown on The Price is Right.

The 15th day without electricity began Tuesday pretty much as the previous 14 for the Montgomerys.

They waited for the lights to come on.

"Every day you get up hoping, 'Well, today will be the day,' " Bertha said. "But it's not today. You just keep waiting.

"But when you trust in the good Lord, he says he will see you through. And he will."

Sitting with his wife in a small room with a bed and a TV, James Montgomery added: "We grew up without electric."

"You carried your water in from the cistern or well. You were used to it so you didn't pay any attention to it," he said. "I was 16 years old before we got electric. Milked cows by hand."

The Montgomerys bought the generator on the ninth day of the outage, which was caused by an ice storm that left more than 700,000 Kentucky homes or businesses without power.

The generator keeps the food cold in the refrigerator. Bottled gas fuels a well-ventilated gas heater in the kitchen, so the house is nice and toasty. They only run the generator from about 8 a.m. till after the noon news, and they run it again from 7 p.m. till 10 or 11 p.m.

In a small building separate from their house that Bertha calls "the canning house," they cook meals on a gas stove.

The Montgomerys have done better than most. Others who live along Sugar Creek Road — just a couple of miles north of Lancaster, the Garrard County seat — are getting impatient for electricity to return.

Just north of the Montgomerys' home on Sugar Creek, Nena Lear's family has made do with only a fireplace for heat and light.

"We've been eating a lot of sandwiches," Lear said as she smoked a cigarette on the wide porch of the house that once was a school.

"We've been doing a lot of fussing, too," she said, gazing at her 10-year-old daughter Mary with a knowing look. Mary wasn't too keen on taking a "pan bath," essentially a sponge bath from a kettle of water that had been heated over a fire.

But even Mary acknowledged that "It's better than going dirty."

Debbie Tudor, another Sugar Creek Road resident without power, said she is "getting cabin fever awfully bad," even though she goes into Lancaster daily to run a printing business. She and her husband can take showers in an apartment they own in town, but when they return home at night they move around with flashlights.

"I'm craving light," Tudor said. "I guess I understand why people get really depressed. I'm not depressed, but I understand why they get depressed. Whole lives are changed. We don't know what day it is. We don't know whether we're coming or going."

As of 9 a.m. Tuesday, 275 Inter-County Energy customers in Garrard County still had no power. The northern section of Garrard is hilly, rugged terrain, said Sheree Gilliam, vice president of customer services for Inter-County.

The Danville-based distribution cooperative has 55,000 poles and 3,700 miles of lines across 12 Central Kentucky counties. At one point on Jan. 28, only eight of Inter-County's 25,000 customers had power. (By Tuesday morning, all but 648 customers had power.)

"What took us 71 years to build, we tried to put back up in 14 days," Gilliam said. "The area we serve is so spread out and so rural, it is a different animal than going down a city street."

Nevertheless, Garrard Fiscal Court Magistrate Fred Simpson, who represents the Sugar Creek area, wondered out loud Tuesday whether the cooperative has been negligent in its maintenance of poles.

"There are a lot of people here really dissatisfied," Simpson said.

Gilliam said one-twelfth of Inter-County's system is inspected each year on a rotating basis, and any poles that need replacing are replaced.

"Obviously, we can't inspect them all every year," Gilliam said. "But we are as aggressive as any utility as far as pole treatment and right of way."

Simpson also questioned whether Inter-County has diminished its mission of providing power to rural customers in order "to become a player on the national stage as an energy wholesaler."

"We're not an energy wholesaler," Gilliam said. "We are a distribution cooperative. Our customers are the members and we do not sell power to anyone else. ... Our goal is the same as it was when we started 71 years ago, to provide a service to rural America that they would not otherwise have."

Gilliam said Inter-County had eight crews Tuesday working to restore power in the Sugar Creek-Buckeye area of northern Garrard County.

The Montgomerys say they understand that it takes time for Inter-County to restore power to the rural house they have called home for 39 years.

"They've had a lot of limbs to deal with. They're doing all they can do," said James Montgomery, who retired from IBM in 1987.

"We'll make it. We're all right," he said. "It's just one of those things. It bothers you a little bit, but I'm getting used to doing this now. It doesn't bother me too bad."

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