Lake County power outages down to a trickle
At the end, was Gurnee.
As electrical service was returning Saturday to the last of the 868,000 customers left powerless by Monday's storm, ComEd Chairman Frank Clark stood outside Gurnee Mills shopping center and said the few thousand customers still waiting were mostly in and around Gurnee.
Near him was a crew from Georgia, one of the 14 states that sent workers to northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin to help restore power.
By Friday night, ComEd had replaced more than 350,000 feet of cable and wire, roughly 400 poles and 200 transformers in restoring power to 99 percent of affected customers.
Clark acknowledged ComEd did not have power restored everywhere by midnight Friday, like he said they would.
"I set a goal and we came close to that goal -- over 99 percent," he said. "But we did not hit it. I know how difficult it is for these customers who are still without electricity five days into our restoration effort."
Still, he praised the company's round-the-clock efforts.
"I am extremely, extremely pleased with the effort of the ComEd crews and all of the others that have come from around the country to support our effort," Clark said.
Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik called the past week a flat-out "nightmare."
"It was complicated," she added. Kovarik said ComEd stationed an employee in village hall all week and worked closely with Gurnee Public Works to prioritize the parts of town with seniors and people with disabilities.
"ComEd was absolutely wonderful to work with," she said, adding that several old trees knocked down lines in the original part of the village, contributing to the mess.
In one Barrington neighborhood where power was restored just before noon on Saturday, weary residents were almost giddy.
"When we were kids, we used to run after the ice cream truck. Now as adults, we're running after the ComEd trucks," says Theresa Bedal, who spent about 124 hours without electricity as downed power lines and toppled trees littered her Barrington neighborhood.
In this bucolic neighborhood where people depend on electric pumps to fill their toilets and power their showers, residents were tired of trekking to health clubs, YMCAs and friends' homes just to clean up.
"I have a big pond in back and I'd pick up buckets and fill (the toilet tank) up," says Warren Frank, 56, who used a neighbor's YMCA pass to take showers in the early morning before going to his job in the city as chief operations and financial officer for the Chicago Association of Realtors.
"Once, I actually took a bar of Irish Spring and bathed in the pond."
While Ron Bedal hauled buckets of water from the lake to fill toilets in the Bedal home, Lauren, 19, and Paul, 24, simply escaped.
"I sought refugee at friends' houses," Lauren says. "I just had a backpack and called myself a nomad."
Luke and Elissa Corning, their 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son got home Saturday afternoon to find their air conditioning working. He was on his way to work Monday morning when the storm hit and couldn't drive back to his house because trees and wires blocked the road.
"We used a chain saw to cut a path to get the other cars out," Luke Corning said. He owned a generator, which they used to power the essentials -- the sump pump, the refrigerator and the fish tank.
"But I haven't figured out how to hook it into the toilets yet," he said.
By Saturday, though, patience was deteriorating into frustration, and even anger, among people and business owners who were tired, hot, dirty and in some cases, losing money by the bucketful.
Brian Grams, director of the Volo Auto Museum, said ComEd did a lousy job communicating.
"If we had known it was going to take until Saturday, we would have rented generators," said Grams, whose museum near routes 120 and 12 was once again doing a brisk business soon after reopening Saturday afternoon.
Nikki Nedza of the Save-A-Pet shelter near Grayslake said it was difficult to get answers by telephone. One ComEd employee told her power would likely be back on Tuesday. It was Saturday afternoon when the power returned, and by that time workers were worried about the 250 dogs and cats who live at the shelter.
In the Barrington area, residents were grateful for the return of power, but openly wondering how ComEd could leave them in the dark for so long.
"How about that? One-hundred twenty-plus hours without electricity while Chairman John is doing nothing," Warren Frank said, referring to John W. Rowe, chairman of the Exelon Corp., the parent company of ComEd.
The answer lies at ComEd's operations control center in Joliet, where dispatchers kept tabs on crews with a global positioning system.
When a crew finished one job, dispatchers pinpointed the closest location on a computer for the next assignment.
Data-filled monitors in the center listed the total number of power outages and broke them down by location. Lines that served the most customers were given priority for restoration.
While acknowledging some consumer agitation, ComEd's Clark and President/COO Anne Pramaggiore praised customers for their patience and complimented them for being so nice to the restoration crews.
Pramaggiore said she saw this firsthand when she accompanied an Alabama Power crew in Gurnee.
"Some of the neighbors sat in their front yards and watched them work on top of poles and bucket trucks, and put 'Sweet Home Alabama' on the stereo for the crews as they were working, which I thought was very touching," Pramaggiore said.
In their Wauconda home without power for 125 hours, Richard Tiesi, his wife, Sue Gieras Tiesi, and 10-year-old son, Ricky, "played lots and lots of board games."
But the arrival of air conditioning on Saturday afternoon didn't cancel their lingering fear of losing power again and the cost of replacing spoiled food and getting their home back in order.
"It was," Sue Gieras Tiesi concluded, "a very expensive week."