CERES -- When 80-year-old Mary Berry started her laundry one quiet morning in August the washer let out a dull, low hummmm. Then a loud pop rattled the kitchen and snap in the living room turned off her large-screen television and the lights. The VCR started smoking and her grandson, Robert Berry, ran outside, fearing a fire.
That afternoon, Turlock Irrigation District repairmen told her not to worry, it was their fault. An underground line gave off an unusual voltage. Berry's three televisions, VCR, refrigerator, clock radio, radio, her late husband's citizens band radio, her central heat and air unit and a cordless phone were fried.
The TID would cut a check for the damages, the repairmen said, and it did, for $419.
"I couldn't believe it," the Berry said Wednesday. "I didn't take it. You can't even put a price on what I went through."
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It took the TID two days to get power back (she spent a night hooked to one of the company's generators) but the refrigerator never came back on. She lost a fridge and freezer full of food and spent a week eating out of a small Coleman camping cooler. A friend has since loaned her a refrigerator.
It's not a matter of money, said TID spokeswoman Michelle Reimers, it's a matter of documentation.
"We're not trying to hold back on anything. It's a matter of getting the proper paperwork," she said.
Berry provided a list of repair costs for the central heating unit, refrigerator and a television, Reimers said. That's where the $419 figure came from. The television, a 52-inch projection TV from 1981, can't be repaired, Reimers said, but the TID will buy a new comparable model.
The day after the blowout, Berry called Luis Ramirez, owner of Modesto-based Cal- Ram Heating & Air Conditioning, who installed the new system this month. Berry's central air, fridge, microwave and other appliances were new through the TID's CARES program, which provides help to low-income customers.
"I just went ahead and did the work," Ramirez said. "She said she didn't have the money, but she's an elderly person and her husband just passed away. It was 100 degrees that day."
'Just come up with a price'
Reimers said the TID isn't looking to pinch pennies, but it needs invoices or estimates on repair work or quotes for comparable new items.
"Just come up with a price is basically what we're saying," she said. "It's not like we're not willing to renegotiate."
Thursday morning, Berry was skeptical about the TID's promise to make it right. She had given the utility all the receipts she could come up with and that didn't turn out right.
"I don't care whether I get a brand new TV in my house; I'm not after that," she said.
After some thinking, she paused, then said, "I guess I'll go over to Wal-Mart and check out a clock radio and electric clock, you know?"
Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2391.