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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Utility Shut-Off Deaths Begin

I’ve been worrying for a long time about what is going to happen to many of us when we can no longer pay our utility bills - and urging people to put what resources they can to being able to live without their utilities. I’ve written about this a number of times.

Now a reader (thanks, Edward!) has sent me this, the story of a 93 year old World War II veteran who died of hypothermia in his home because he couldn’t pay his electric bill. Marvin Schur’s death is the first case I know of during this Depression that involves someone freezing to death in their home due to a utility shut off, but it will not be the last, I fear.

Bay City Electric Light and Power, which is owned by the city, said a limiter was placed on Schur’s electrical line.

The device limits the power that reaches a home, and it blows out like a fuse if power consumption rises past a set level.

The manager of Bay City said the limiter was tripped sometime between the time of installation and the discovery of the man’s body.

The city manager said city workers keep the limiter on a house for 10 days, then shut off power entirely if the homeowner hasn’t paid utility bills or arranged to do so.

A medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on Schur told TV5 and that Schur died a painful death due to the hypothermia.

Dr. Kanu Varani has done hundreds of autopsies, and he said he’d never seen a person die of hypothermia indoors.

A neighbor who lives across the street from Schur is angered that the city didn’t personally notify the elderly man about his utility situation.

Schur’s neighbor, Herndon, said Schur had a utility bill on his kitchen table with a large amount of money clipped to it, with the intention of paying that bill.”

This is, of course, a horror and a shameful thing to allow to happen. But a life with few or no utilities is probably in many people’s future - already families are unable to fill oil tanks and are making do with electric space heaters. What happens when the electricity goes as well? While many states have limits on utility companies shutting off during the heating season, some places have suffered chronic violations of these laws, and the pressure to shut off is likely to rise steadily as more and more Americans are in debt to their utility companies. At last check 26% of all Americans were overdue on at least one utility bill.

This is one of my older articles - I’ve written about this a number of times - but my own conviction is that many, many of us will live without utilities, not because the grid crashes (which might also happen), but because we will increasingly be priced out of basic services like lights and heat. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else - so find ways to live comfortably without power if you can, and please, please keep an eye on your vulnerable neighbors. The elderly and disabled have the fewest recourses and are the most likely to die - and they may be ashamed to ask for help. Don’t make them ask, be there offering, so that no one will ever die this painful death again.



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