PG&E turns the lights on, community comes out to support seniors left in dark

After nearly five days of living in the dark, with no heat, electricity or elevators to take the wheelchair-bound up and down the stairs, Pacific Gas and Electric finally turned on the power at a low-income apartment building for 60 seniors in Marin County. 

Most, if not all, of the Bay Area was restored to power on Wednesday after a series of PG&E power shutoffs. As winds gusted up to speeds of 102 mph over the weekend, PG&E wanted to prevent more of its equipment from toppling and sparking any more wildfires. To date, the utility might be responsible for at least six fires this season.

The prolonged outage was especially tough for the elderly living at Bennett House on Taylor Drive in Fairfax. Their power was off from Saturday to Wednesday at 4 p.m. 

"There were absolutely no lights anywhere in the hall,"said Phyllis Gould, 98, who was one of the first female Rose the Riveter welders at the Kaiser shipyard in 1942 and a current docent at the Rosie the Rivert/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond. "Just black."

She and the other residents were forced to walk around with headlamps in the pitch black hallways. Others with physical disabilities were confined to their bedrooms as they weren't able to get downstairs because the elevators weren't working. One man was down to his last two candles. 


Phyllis Gould, 98, an original Rosie the Riveter, has been living in the dark in Fairfax, Calif. since Saturday. Oct. 29, 2019

In a panic, Gould called KTVU for help.

"I knew that making the phone call was the right thing to do but I didn't know what it would create," she said Wednesday evening, checking her freezer to see what had gone bad. "I feel real good about what I've done. I think a lot of good will come of it." 

The story of her power outage aired late Tuesday night and people from all over, including police, health services and strangers came by to check in and offer food, generators and company. 


Health services and strangers brought residents at the Bennett House food and blankets after a PG&E power shutoff that lasted five days. Oct. 30, 2019

"It's amazing," said resident Barbara "Babs" Glinn, adding that all types of people also came by with soup and blankets.

Marina Dour and her mother saw the story on KTVU and decided to make the seniors a bunch of sandwiches.

"It was so depressing," Marina said. ""We to make sure they had enough. I didn't want them to be without food."  

Mercy Housing president Doug Shoemaker said that the units are apartments and that there are no on-care managers to help out 24/7. "This isn't a nursing home," he said.

That said, his agency brought in some short-term emergency generators to install for the next power outage. And he vowed that longer-term plans and generators would be installed during a planned renovation of the building. Shoemaker also installed lanterns in the hallway, where there were none before. 

"We're working diligently to fix whatever issues that have come up," he said.    

While the experience was frightening for the residents, Georgina Raynor, 72, who relies on oxygen tanks to breathe and was stranded on the third floor, said there was indeed a silver lining to the blackout. She'll never forget the outpouring of love and support from strangers who empathized with the residents' plight. 

"We were all just really heart warmed," Raynor said. "I felt much more a part of the community."