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Some are plugged in with no power, others camp out

Thursday - 7/5/2012, 8:45pm  ET

By ERIC TUCKER and VICKI SMITH
Associated Press

POTOMAC, Md. (AP) - Hundreds of thousands of people from Illinois to New Jersey are still without power after a line of deadly storms struck last Friday. A week of more unpredictable weather and sweltering temperatures has followed.

In West Virginia, the leader of the National Guard said he hadn't seen a more widespread power outage in the state in decades. In Ohio, the chief of a major utility said the damage was worse than what was caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ike in 2008.

At least 27 people have been killed in the storms or their aftermath since Friday, not including deaths from heat-related causes.

Through it all, Americans have been getting by in their own ways, whether in the hollows of rural West Virginia or in the tony Maryland suburbs of the nation's capital. Here are a few examples of how they're doing it:

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STILL PLUGGED IN

"We're like squatters in our own house, aren't we, Lilah?" Corey Phelps said playfully to her 2-year-old goldendoodle dog.

Their home in Potomac, Md., an upscale suburb dotted with multimillion-dollar homes, has been without power for six days. The 33-year-old Pilates instructor and her family have been using a portable generator to keep their refrigerator running and catching showers "like vagabonds _ anywhere we can get one," like at her gym and swim club.

Her daughter, who's almost 13, has been using the generator keep her Nook e-reader and iTouch continuously charged.

A blowup mattress in the kitchen was serving as a makeshift bed, though she acknowledged that the heat inside her home could have been much worse.

"Probably the worst it's been is like, 78 (degrees)," she said. "That's literally because the house is made of stone. I mean, if we lived anywhere else, I doubt we'd have been as fortunate ... "

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FENDING FOR THEMSELVES

Emma Kelly and her extended family in Fayette County, W.Va., didn't expect their power and water service back until Sunday, after being knocked out last Friday.

But you won't hear this resourceful West Virginian complain.

"I'm a holler girl," she said. "We were raised in the hollers, in the ridges and the hills of West Virginia. We hunt, we fish, we grow gardens and we take care of ourselves.

"You can complain about it or make the best of it," Kelly, 47, said Thursday as she fielded call after call as a 911 dispatcher.

Since the power went out, her family has hauled water up from a creek to flush toilets and taken the grandchildren down to the cool water for relief from the 90-degree heat. They made a cooking pit in the yard.

"Everybody's trying to find ice, just to keep things cold," Kelly said. She traded some fuel for a camper stove for ice with a neighbor.

She hasn't hounded her power supplier, American Electric Power, with calls.

"They're aware of it," she said. "I'm used to being in the woods. I'm the last to be served. I'm OK."

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WARM BEER

South of Washington in the Virginia suburb of Arlington, sweat glistened on Lidia Valdez's forehead as she answered the door and wet hair clung to her cheeks. Inside, a dozen warm bottles of Corona beer sat on a countertop.

"We cannot find ice anymore," said her husband, Walter Valdez. "We were preparing the beers to celebrate the Fourth of July, but that was not possible."

The Valdezes were sweating through their seventh day without power, the result of a massive oak tree that fell across the street a few houses down, crushing a car and snapping a utility pole. The Bolivian natives said a week without air conditioning reminded them of trips to the Amazon in their native country.

"We are so desperate!" Lidia Valdez said. "We are taking cold water showers at midnight, in the morning. Three, four times a day."

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QUEST FOR POWER

The outage sparked a quest for Charlie Salisgiver, 63, a retired printer in Arlington, Va. When he saw the massive oak tree that snapped their power, he knew electricity wouldn't be back for a while.

He set out to buy a generator, a search that took 12 hours and finally ended about 100 miles away at a Lowe's store in Tappahannock.

When he got back, he ripped open the box and quickly found it didn't work. He found another one at a store closer to his home. He's had it running constantly since Sunday night. It can power a refrigerator, a freezer, an air-conditioning unit and a couple of lights.

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