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Mother Pulls Out All Stops To Restore Power

When high winds knocked a neighbor's tree across live wires, cutting off the power in Celia Johnston's house on Thursday, Sept. 18, she accepted it as part of Hurricane Isabel's wrath. The following day, the neighbor's lights were back on, while Johnston's remained dark, leaving the mother and her 30-year-old paraplegic son without electricity until Monday afternoon.

Johnston's situation was desperate, and all weekend, her pleas for help produced no results.

"I'm having a terrible time," she said on the morning of Monday, Sept. 22.

Johnston tried calling the police, Dominion Virginia Power, Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) and Del. Chap Petersen's (D-37th) office with little response. Dominion Virginia Power maintains a list of houses with medical situations, which Johnston was on.

According to Dominion spokesperson Debra Johnson, the list is important but does not necessarily determine the priority of response time.

"Our customer service center has a procedure where there's a medical situation," Johnson said. "They should call in as soon as they become a customer. That's very important that they're on that list. There are at least hundreds, if not thousands of these cases in this area."

Dominion Virginia Power did have a suggestion when Johnston called.

"They told me to go to a shelter," Johnston said.

"I've gotten a total of 10 people [at Dominion]. I even called Chap Petersen's office, but I couldn't get through."

The Johnston's house is located in the Fairfax Villa neighborhood, just south of the City of Fairfax. A neighbor's tree fell across wires and remained on the ground Monday morning. She roped off the area and posted a sign, warning people of the live wires.

Neighbor Simone Miller saw some activity at the house, but nothing was done.

"Somebody came and assessed the situation, and I guess they said it was all right," Miller said.

Cheryl Walvoord is a self-employed caregiver, who tends to Johnston's son. She's at the house most of the day, while Johnston works at Greenbriar East Elementary as a third-grade teacher.

"She has a handicapped son, so it's been difficult," Walvoord said. "She's been trying to contact the electric company."

Petersen's office did receive the message on Monday and handled it promptly. Petersen was familiar with the Johnston situation.

"We got that information to Dominion as fast as we could. My hat’s off to Dominion, they were very responsive," Petersen said.

Johnston's call to Bulova's office was also received Monday morning.

"Our office made a number of calls to Dominion," Bulova said.

Dominion Virginia Power finally came out Monday evening in the pouring rain and fixed the electricity at Johnston's house.

THE LIST that Dominion Virginia Power maintains with customers with medical situations is set up mainly so that the power company can advise families ahead of time.

"It does not necessarily mean we're going to be able to restore them ahead of someone else," Johnson said.

Johnston's son has been a paraplegic since age 8, when he suffered a head injury. Now he requires special food. With the electricity out, the food was spoiled.

"I have to give him pureed food," Johnston said of her son. "He can't eat regular food. I had to throw everything out."

Johnston remembered a few summers ago when the power went out and being on the list paid off. At that time, when Johnston got in touch with then Virginia Power, they acknowledged she was on the list and fixed the problem.