What it's like living in the dark in wake of Florence

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The Holcomb family is one of thousands still without power in the region following Hurricane Florence.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Through a busted panel in their backyard fence, Amy and Mark Holcomb can see light shining through a neighbor’s window.

It’s a taunting sight, as the Holcomb family and many of their neighbors are in their eighth day without power just feet away.

They aren’t alone. In New Hanover County, more than 11,000 customers were still without power as of noon Friday, according to Duke Energy outage maps. In Brunswick County, more than 3,200 customers were down. It was nearly 4,000 customers in Pender County.

In those eight days since Hurricane Florence, Amy said the family has had to improvise to keep themselves functional and sane in the dark.

“You feel like you are in a daze, living in slow motion,” she said. “It’s been so long now, it has become a weird normal.”

Early on, they started using flashlights with water bottles sitting on top for makeshift lanterns. A few days in, they learned they could take an empty sweet tea jug, fill it with water and wrap headlamps around it for a surprisingly illuminating lamp to break up the pitch black of night. They’ve dubbed it the jug-o-lantern.

For entertainment, they’ve sifted through boxes they forgot they had, got reacquainted with a handheld football game from the ’80s and toyed with the dial on a transistor radio from the 1960s, a present Amy got for Mark when he retired from 25 years in radio.

“Our daughter, Grace, has gotten pretty good at the game,” she said. “And we’ve been able to get opera and some Georgia football games on the radio. Once, we got some WRAL newscasts from Raleigh.”

Amy and Mark haven’t slept in their bed since before Florence, instead relocating to a guest bedroom at the front of the house that gets better airflow during the night.

But even that comes with more discomforts than just the heat.

“It’s a little nerve-racking knowing you are trying to sleep with your window open in a one-story home and it’s pitch black outside,” she said. “You don’t know what’s right outside.”

Much of their free time has also been spent on the phone with Duke Energy, trying to find out why more and more of their neighboring communities have restored power and they still sit in the dark. Each time they or a neighbor calls, they all get different answers.

“We know there are still a lot of people out and we know the lineman are working as hard as possible and we’re so grateful,” Amy said. “We just want some information because there has been miscommunication between the live people and the automated system.”

To get out of the house, they’ve gone to restaurants with power, took a stroll on Wrightsville Beach and even helped with their congregation at Grace United Methodist Church, which has been feeding out-of-town firefighters.

As they wait for light and a return to normalcy, there has been one bright spot in the dark.

“I haven’t heard anything about politics in two weeks,” she said. “It’s great.”

Reporter Hunter Ingram can be reached at Hunter.Ingram@StarNewsOnline.com.