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Outages create nomads in search of electricity

The tree outlet Will Wheeler and his friends found.

Superstorm Sandy left more than seven million people without power. That's quite a crowd desperate to charge their smartphones, computers and all the rest of their gear. I should know: I am one of the nomads looking for a working power outlet.

People don't usually say this about me, but I'm power-hungry. My home in Westchester County, N.Y., lost electricity on Monday afternoon. To power my smartphone, I first tried a crank radio I received for donating to a public radio pledge drive. It's supposed to charge it, but that didn't work out so well.

So, I resorted to an overpriced generator: my car. As I cranked the transmission, I felt relieved to have some form of power. But soon, it felt incredibly wasteful.

About two million people in New York state alone are without power, and many of those are on the move in search of electricity. In Manhattan, Will Wheeler and his roommates from the Lower East Side found salvation outside a Midtown office building.

“This is the only port we were able to find within 10 blocks of here,” Wheeler says. “A couple of banks had them, but we just found the base of a tree that had an outlet that was working.”

Yes -- he said "a tree."

"It is a little crazy but I think we were smart," adds his friend, Kimi Winkler. "Because a lot of the places that were open were, packed full. So we’re going to charge up here.” The group bought an extension cord and were charging a MacBook, five iPhones and a BlackBerry.

At the New Yorker Hotel on 34th Street, powerless nomads packed the lobby and plugged into every available outlet. One of them, Kim Garrett, a nurse, left her downtown apartment before dawn.

“I just took my flashlight, my devices, my cords, my rain boots, my raincoat and just headed north,” she says. “Kept walking until I found somewhere that might have a plug, and the New Yorker Hotel was the first one.”

She says she got lucky: She even found a chair to sit in.

In Brooklyn, Ethan Gould describe how he rigged his own electrical solution. 

"It's eight AA batteries in a configuration hooked up to two solar panels, which can be attached to USB or iPhone cables," says Gould.

I don’t have anything that fancy. I’m just waiting for municipal crews to clear the trees blocking my street.

The tree outlet Will Wheeler and his friends found.

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