Bellflower residents trying to recover from ice storm

BELLFLOWER – The night the lights went out in Bellflower, very little worked at the Zimmerman household except the gas stove and oven.

In an effort to make the most of a bad situation, Arnita Zimmerman decided to cook.

"I baked a lot of meat and cookies," she said. "I boiled water to make instant coffee. Instead of using a toaster to make toast, I put it on the grill to cook it. The only tough part was heating the water to wash my dishes."

While her husband, Paul, didn't like the idea of living without electricity, he said he enjoyed the meals.

"I never ate so good," chuckled Paul Zimmerman, a retired farmer. "I guess this ice storm wasn't so bad after all."

The Zimmermans endured six nights without power before electricity was restored to their home on Wednesday afternoon.

"I think we were one of the last homes to get our power back because we live at the end of the electric line," explained Paul Zimmerman.

Corn Belt Energy spokesman Dave Hawkinson said that power was restored to nearly 1,1000 of the company's customers on Wednesday. Between 35 and 50 homes in Weldon, Argenta, Maroa and DeWitt had no electricity this morning, and Hawkinson expected those homes to get power back today.

"We still have about 75 power poles that need attention," Hawkinson said.

Bellflower Mayor Eston Ellis spent Wednesday afternoon gathering tree debris that had fallen around the Bellflower Museum.

"There are a lot of fallen branches. We used to be able to get volunteers to help with stuff like this, but I just do it myself these days," Ellis said. "Our population has gotten a little older, so it is difficult to find volunteers."

Ellis said last week's ice storm was the worst he ever remembers in this community of 408 people.

"We had a woman here in town who was on life support when the storm struck Bellflower," Ellis said. "Some of our residents had to take her to Gibson Area Hospital. While we didn't have power, the roads weren't bad."

Ellis said that many village residents saw their basements flood because there was no electricity to operate their sump pumps. "Some volunteers had to manually pump out the water," he said.

While the east side of town got back its electricity on Sunday, Ellis acknowledged that some rural residents had to do without power through Wednesday.

Bellflower homemaker Samantha May said her family used a generator to operate a small television set.

"We had a fireplace to keep warm on those cold, stormy nights, and I used the experience to teach the kids what life was like before people had electricity," she said.

Bellflower resident Leo Coons, 87, said he thinks this was the worst ice storm he ever remembers in the community.

"I got a portable gas burner to heat my home, and I got the temperature up to 60 degrees," Coons said.

In Piatt County, Emergency Management Agency Director Chuck Morris said the Red Cross worked with him to set up a warming center at his office in Monticello on Friday.

"We had it open for five hours, and nobody showed up, so we shut it down," Morris said.

Jamie Davis of the Red Cross of Piatt and Champaign counties said she hasn't received any requests for assistance in connection with last week's storm.

"I think a lot of the rural residents have wood-burning heaters and stoves, so they haven't called us for help," she said.

Morris said that the state opened a second warming shelter on Raymond Road on the south side of Monticello on Tuesday, but nobody had yet showed up there through Wednesday afternoon.

Piatt County residents needing shelter-related help are asked to call 762-7533 or 762-3305.

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