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Families struggle without power heading into third night

With tens of thousands of households without power heading into a third straight night, the struggle to stay warm intensified Thursday.

“We just feel like we’re living in some sort of nightmare right now,” Melissa Plenty said. “I do worry about not being able to wake up, because I don’t breathe well.”

Plenty has a severe case of sleep apnea. She stops and starts breathing while sleeping, and was hospitalized last year. Normally she relies on a CPAP machine that helps her breathe through the night. However, with no power in her North Side home, the machine is useless.

Plenty tries to avoid sleeping but she said she’s so exhausted she often can’t help it. Additionally, her husband, Cliff, and 15-year-old daughter, Clara, have a genetic bone disease that causes arthritic swelling and pain. Normally, Cliff and Clara rely on heat blankets and warm showers to ease their pain.

“It hurts more when you’re cold,” Cliff said. “Everything tightens up in the cold.”

The disease has twisted Cliff’s fingers and makes it hard for him to move. Clara and Cliff said they have had 50 surgeries between the two of them. Everything in the Plentys’ home runs off electricity, and they don’t have a wood stove. Instead, they’re relying on layers, blankets and nonperishable food.

“I know that everybody is having this struggle, so I feel bad,” Plenty said. “I just hope that everybody out there gets their power on soon.”

Families elsewhere echoed similar concerns.

Sharon Alexander, in Spokane Valley, is caring for her husband who has dementia. She’s been keeping him warm with blankets, hot tea and coffee. She said her neighbors have helped tremendously.

“It was unfortunate that it happened, but we got to know our neighbors much better,” she said. “Which was nice in some respects.”

Alice Etheridge and Charles Rhodes are relying on propane heaters to warm their small Spokane Valley home. However, it’s becoming harder to find propane as other Spokane-area residents clean out local stores.

“I’ve been here 50 years,” Etheridge said. “Ice storm wasn’t even this bad.”

Lynn Kimball, the director of Aging and Long Term Care, said her office has been particularly concerned with between 200 and 300 clients who depend on technology. They have worked to find places for those people, she said.

“Right now, we’re really concerned about people over the weekends,” she said. “We’re directing people to the shelters.”

There are roughly 3,000 vulnerable elderly adults living at home in Spokane County, she said.

The power outages affect the elderly and medically dependent the most, she said. For a younger couple, like Jon and Tammara McGovern, the power outage is more of an inconvenience.

“It’s sad,” Jon McGovern said. “But something like this brings the neighbors together.”

The couple, who spent Wednesday clearing downed trees from their yard, said the day after the storm teams of neighbors banded together, some clearing roads while others checked on elderly neighbors and delivered hot drinks and food.

“It’s great to be part of a neighborhood that takes care of each other,” Tammara McGovern said.