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People Without Electricity At Home Turn To Workplace

The Hartford Courant

Gaye Tuchman has been out of power and water at her home in Storrs since early Sunday morning, even before Connecticut was hit with the full wrath of Tropical Storm Irene.

The following day, Tuchman, a professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, made an important discovery: where she could take a shower. But Tuesday she wasn't naming the location.

"It's somewhere on campus, I'm not telling where," Tuchman said. "There's a lot of faculty. I don't want to mess up my secret source of showers."

As hundreds of thousands remain without power at home, often without hot water or any running water at all, they are turning to their workplaces as a refuge for providing the basic necessities that virtually everyone takes for granted: charging cellphones, showering and cooking a meal.

"When you don't have water, things that you take for granted like flushing a toilet and taking a shower are a big deal," Brian Wilson, a finance manager at ING, said Tuesday.

Wilson, a Tolland resident, has been without power since Sunday at 7:30 a.m. when a large tree fell in front of his house, dragging power lines down with it. So when he learned that ING was opening the gym locker rooms to all employees and not just members while power outages remained widespread, he felt a sense of relief.

"That has been huge," Wilson said. "It's one less thing I have to worry about."

Power had been restored to portions of Tolland as of Tuesday, but Wilson said it still could be four to eight days before his neighborhood gets electricity back.

"I've got my cellphone plugged in as we speak," Wilson said, in a telephone interview from ING's offices in Windsor.

On Monday, Brian Sommers, a geography professor at Central Connecticut State University, brought his sons to work with him. Normally, they would have begged off, but they willingly went along this time. Sommers, who lives in Wethersfiled, had been without power since very early Sunday.

"Normally, they would consider it punishment," Sommers said. "But they are recharging everything, getting their cellphones back in operation."

While their father worked, Max, 14, a sophomore at Wethersfield High School, worked on a computer to complete a summer project for his advance placement biology class. His brother, Nate, 11, was playing a game on a cellphone.

While Sommers said his neighborhood in Wethersfield has seen worse — it was hit by a destructive tornado two years ago — the breadth of the power outage this time around has been more severe.

Tuchman said the loss has been magnified, given the widespread use of electronic devices.

"It shows how extraordiarily dependent on electricity we are," Tuchman said. "If you just think about it, the people manufacturing those toys have done everything to make us think we need them."

Tuchman also noted that people did not routinely shower every day, even a generation or so ago.

"Quite frankly, once you get used to showering every day, it's hard not to," Tuchman said.

Wilson, the ING finance manager, said he has used the power outage to teach his daughters Jennifer, 13, and Stephanie, 11, not to take electricity and water for granted. But he's had plenty of darkness already to make the lesson work.

"I'm hoping that it will go on soon and that's the worst-case scenario," he said. "I hope it will be on tonight so we can get back to normal."

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