Residents endure outages, cabin fever

Sawyer Fortenberry eats by candlelight at his family’s home in Tylertown.

Books by candelight, rationed food and heavy blankets were the order of the day — or days — as people in Southwest Mississippi camped out at home, iced in and lacking electricity.

Many residents of Pike and Walthall counties had their power restored by Friday afternoon. As of 3 p.m. Friday, Entergy Mississippi reported 163 Walthall County customers and 95 Pike County customers without power. Magnolia Electric Power had 393 outages, a significant drop from its peak of 9,000 outages Monday.

People in the most heavily affected areas spent multiple days finding alternate sources of light and heat.

Kierra Battley-Toler of Jayess went without lights for over three days, from 8:30 a.m. Monday to 2:30 p.m. Thursday, the longest stretch for her in recent memory.

“I learned how to use a couple cans and a candle to warm up soup. After the second day, you kind of start trying to figure out what you can do,” she said.

“I was happy I had some nonfiction books in here. I even resorted at one point to reading a cookbook just to do something,” she said.

Her neighborhood of 12 other people were in the same boat. They helped each other when they could, but dangerous driving conditions limited contact. They shared some resources and occasionally checked on each other by phone.

Battley-Toler was especially diligent in regularly checking on her 71-year-old mother-in-law, who lives in the area.

No lights also meant no heater for Battley-Toler. It meant she had to find a way to stay warm, although it benefited her fridge.

“I didn’t lose too much because it was so cold in here the stuff in the fridge actually had ice on it,” she said. “I had a bunch of fleece sheets and blankets. We laid in the bed as much as we could and layered with thermals and gloves and warm socks just to try the best to stay warm.”

Lights went out at Kerri Fortenberry’s Tylertown home at 4 a.m. Monday and were on-again off-again until Thursday afternoon.

“Out of power and out of water off and on; we just got our water back today. We were pretty blessed either way,” Fortenberry said.

A gas-powered fireplace gave Fortenberry, her husband and her two sons something to gather around for warmth and for activities.

“My boys colored, and we put puzzles together. We put LEGOs together, destroyed my house,” she said with a laugh. “They just fooled around and did like all the other kids right now, played with their toys.”

They were well-stocked on food and were able to make a run for water at Fortenberry’s parents’ house just across the Louisiana state line.

Fortenberry’s husband cared for their cows and chickens, making sure they had unfrozen food and water. The cows had to take a break from their usual rye grass grazing field.

“It was just breaking off. They can’t eat ice,” Fortenberry said.

Meanwhile, she stood guard over her kids at two key temperature points.

“I was taking care of them, fixing food and yelling ‘Shut the refrigerator!’ and ‘Shut the door!’ trying to keep it warm in here,” she said.

In hilly Chatawa, Zach Henderson was homebound from Monday to Thursday morning.

“Just to get out to the highway there are some pretty steep roads, so I didn’t want to risk it,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d even be able to drive out. We were stuck back here for a few days.”

Even if he was stuck, he, his wife and their couple of dogs didn’t want for much. Henderson, who called himself a “borderline prepper,” was well-stocked on food and supplies.

A portable propane heater kept them warm for the two days their lights were out.

“We had our devices charged, played around on social media. Mainly the same stuff we do when we’re feeling lazy during the good times,” Henderson said.

Bottled water was the essential he came the closest to running out of. He typically uses a nearby artesian well to refill, but without power the well wouldn’t work.

“Other than that it wasn’t terrible as far as disasters go,” Henderson said. “It wasn’t that long. We didn’t have severe cabin fever. It wasn’t as bad as the prolonged quarantine.”

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