Sarah Lehr Lansing State Journal
Published 7:00 AM EST Dec 20, 2018
LANSING — When Sue Taylor’s children asked why everything outside was coated in a sparkly layer of ice, she told them Jack Frost got angry.
The kids, ages 2 and 3, spent much of the 2013 ice storm with their noses pressed up against their apartment window, watching cars skid across the treacherous roads.
The storm hit mid-Michigan on Dec. 22. Snow turned to frozen rain, which weighed down trees and electrical lines. More than 38,000 people lost power.
Although the storm itself cleared out before Christmas Eve, some Lansing area residents were still without power as of Jan. 1, the day the Spartans beat Stanford in the 2013 Rose Bowl.
Taylor was fortunate enough to keep power, so her apartment became a refuge for family and friends.
Many of her friends avoided their cold, dark homes by working all the hours they could get that week. Between shifts, people stopped by Taylor’s apartment for quick naps, showers or to charge their laptops.
Neighbors starting leaving their doors unlocked, so all the pent-up kids could run through the hallways of Taylor’s apartment complex.
“We really became a community,” Taylor said. “There was nothing to do, so we all got to know the neighbors.
Preuss Pets in Old Town offered its own refuge for the non-human members of Lansing’s community.
The north side pet shop boarded fish and small animals, like lizards and birds, during the days following the storm.
Co-owner Rick Preuss recalled how a crying girl came into the store with a nearly-dead piranha in tow. The tropical fish had been left in a cold tank, but Preuss employees were able to nurse it back to health.
“I think more about the ones that didn’t make it,” Preuss said. “After the storm, we got lots of calls about pets, especially fish. People didn’t know about us in time.”
Five years later, Keisha Wade of Lansing still tears up at recollections from the storm. She remembers worrying about her elderly neighbors and she remembers how the chaos upset her 23-year-old son, who has autism.
Wade’s family was without power for eight days. They spent Christmas sharing unwrapped gifts at a hotel in Howell and had to dip into their mortgage money to cover the unexpected costs.
The hotel lobby became a place for families to trade stories about weathering the storm.
One evening, an out-of-town stranger overheard Wade discussing her family’s ordeal. The man walked up to the hotel clerk and paid her hotel bill, a gesture that Wade attributes to the particular magic of the ice storm.
“You’d be surprised how in a situation like that you don’t see color, you don’t see religion, you don’t see sexual preference,” Wade said.
Wade also recalls how anger at the Board of Water and Light, Lansing’s municipal utility, was a unifying force. She especially remembers people talking about the Facebook post.
The wife of BWL General Manager J. Peter Lark had shared a public Facebook status update, revealing that she and her husband had traveled to New York City on for Christmas while the ice storm’s aftermath wreaked havoc back in Lansing.
Lark returned from New York earlier than originally planned and made public apologies for the trip. He was fired from the BWL in 2015 and could not be reached for comment.
The vacation was infuriating to Marlene Wagonschutz, a Lansing resident who brought cookies to the linemen who were working through the cold. She felt Lark had deserted his staff in a crisis.
Despite the public outcry, Gen. Mike McDaniel says he does not believe Lark’s trip, which lasted from Dec. 23 until Christmas Day, increased the amount of time it took the BWL to respond to outgages. McDaniel led an independent inquiry into the storm, which detailed the ways in which BWL had mismanaged its storm response.
Although she described feeling betrayed by local leaders five years ago, Wade now feels more optimistic about Lansing’s preparedness.
“I’m forgiving, as long as they have a plan for the next time,” Wade said.
Wagonschutz feels the same way, although she’s hedging her bets.
In 2014, her family got lanterns and battery-operated radios for Christmas.
2014: Ice-cold memories from ‘the forgotten zone’
BWL one year later: From ice storm to board expansion
Contact Sarah Lehr at (517) 377-1056 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @SarahGLehr.
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