Family survives carbon monoxide poisoning during Hurricane Irene

Wind sent gas from generator into victims' house

ABINGDON, Md. - The hum of generators is deafening along Clarkson Road in Abingdon, but one sits conspicuously outside Robert Hulquist's neighbor's home.

"There were some ambulances coming down and they were going into the house with gas masks on," said Hulquist.

Carrie Schneiderhan says her boyfriend left the generator running during the hurricane to keep the basement from flooding when she awoke to the smell of fuel exhaust permeating her house.

They turned it off and opened the windows, but it was too late.

"He came up and he said, 'Something's wrong with his daughter, Sierra.' So I went upstairs to see what was going on," said Schneiderhan, "and he was at the window with her and I passed out and then we figured out it was carbon monoxide."

At the peak of the storm, 53,000 residents lost power in Harford County, and it could take several days to restore service.

57 roads remained closed Monday, and long lines and traffic backups have become the norm along some roads like Route 24 at Wheel Road where darkened signal lights have left motorists to take turns at their own risk.

"State Highway will be working today and marking some of those intersections and restricting some turns and working with the Sheriff's Office to get that accomplished," said Harford County Public Works Director Bob Cooper.

At the county's Emergency Operations Center, we also learned of four fires during the storm, including a Darlington trailer home where two firefighters were injured.

"The tree had fallen on electrical wires and they were shocked there," said Harford County Executive David Craig.

But with widespread outages and many people generating their own power, Carrie Schneiderhan, her boyfriend and their five children could make a convincing argument that generators could pose the greatest risk in the aftermath of Irene.

"If I had watched this on the news, I would have thought, 'Wow! That's a really stupid thing for them to do, but we did it and we're not stupid people."

Schneiderhan says the family had left the generator just inside the garage door, which was raised about a foot to ventilate the fumes.

She says firefighters told her the wind may have shifted pushing the odorless gas into their home.


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