Family blames brother's death on rotating outages

February 2, 2011 8:18:18 PM PST
Rolling power outages could continue well into Thursday, so ERCOT is asking everyone to conserve power and only use as much electricity as absolutely necessary.

While it has been an inconvenience for many homeowners, for some families, it can become a matter of life and death.

Shavon Caldwell and her four children woke up to a very chilly and dark home. She had no way to give her son his asthma treatments. But it was an even more serious situation for her 29-year-old brother Stephen, who lived a few neighborhoods away.

"He woke up out of his sleep not being able to breathe," she said.

Caldwell's sister received a frantic call from him early Wednesday morning. He, too, did not have power, therefore cutting off the oxygen he sleeps with every night.

"He weighs, like I said, over 500 pounds, so I knew that he wouldn't be able to breathe without the machine," Caldwell said. "By the time they got there, he had passed away."

CenterPoint Energy says the rolling blackouts are a real-time emergency necessary to reduce the load on the system.

"The alternative is a massive statewide blackout that would last for several hours and it may take a long time to get everyone back online," CenterPoint Energy Spokesman Floyd LeBlanc said.

The problem with supply meeting demand stems from two issues: frozen pipes at some power plants, according to Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, and more power generation sources are offline this time of year for routine maintenance.

The outages are rotated, but buildings like hospitals and police stations have not been interrupted.

It's a complex process, which makes notifying any neighborhood of their outage time very difficult. But the process left the Caldwells heartbroken by their loss Wednesday.

"I don't understand why they didn't prepare properly for this situation," Caldwell said. "Everybody has their time and I'm not questioning God or anything; I just feel like, what could have been done."

CenterPoint Energy is installing new Smart Meters at homes in the greater Houston area to pinpoint homes where medical devices are depended on and avoid cutting power to those homes.

Unfortunately, the new plan of action came too late for the Caldwell family.