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Duke Power Award Draws Disbelief From Durham Residents

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DURHAM, N.C. — News that a local power company won an award for its response to the Dec. 2002 ice storm received an icy reception Thursday from people in Durham.

Many residents will not forget the frigid days they spent in the dark after that storm. They also remember the complaints about how Duke Power handled the situation.

In Durham's Parkwood neighborhood, some homeowners were in the dark for nine days. More than 100,000 customers across Durham County lost power.

Thursday, some of those same people were in disbelief to hear that a trade association thought the company's storm response was worthy of an award.

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"If they should get an award for a quick response, then we should get a good citizen's humor award for enduring the time that we had no electricity," said Parkwood resident Kamelah Hayawrd-Rotimi.

The Edison Electric Institute gave Duke Power the Emergency Response Award for its quick action and planning.

"We were honored that an industry association, a jury of our peers, in reviewing the storm response thought we were deserving," Duke Power spokesman Scott Gardner said.

Not everyone who endured the storm was unhappy with Duke Power.

"They seemed to do as well as could be expected under the extremely difficult conditions over which they had no control," said Durham resident Robin Joseph.

Said another resident, Earl Francis: "I think they did a wonderful job. I think they deserved it."

Mayor Bill Bell blasted the utility company after the storm. Thursday, he maintained his previous position.

"We don't think there was very quick action in Durham," Bell said. "At least I don't, based on the calls I got from the citizens and based on my own experience."

But Bell admitted that something positive came out of the experience.

"We've seen some improvement with the Duke Power representatives," he said. "They're in communication a lot more with elected officials and, more importantly, with the staff in the city and county."

Progress Energy received the same award for outstanding efforts to restore electricity after the same ice storm. The company has won the award three other times -- for its response following Hurricanes Bonnie and Floyd, and after the major winter storm of January 2000.

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