Being together brightens the dark

Sarah Torruella, second from right, chats with her daughter Maya Laroco, 5, on her lap, and nieces Katya, 9, left, Ciara, 7, second from left, and Melina Torruella, all of Pawcatuck, in her Ledyard living room Tuesday.  Family members gathered at the Torruellas' to spend the time together waiting for power to return, since both families have been without electricity since Sandy hit Monday.
Sarah Torruella, second from right, chats with her daughter Maya Laroco, 5, on her lap, and nieces Katya, 9, left, Ciara, 7, second from left, and Melina Torruella, all of Pawcatuck, in her Ledyard living room Tuesday. Family members gathered at the Torruellas' to spend the time together waiting for power to return, since both families have been without electricity since Sandy hit Monday. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo

Ledyard - By the fourth day of no power, Maria Torruella began to feel frustrated.

It wasn't just because she had lost power last year, too, during Tropical Storm Irene, or because her seven children had not gone to school for a week. Most frustrating, she said, was looking across to Westerly from her Pawcatuck home and lights sparkling in another state, feet from her house.

But, in a family where any reason to get together is a good one, she rallied the kids and with husband Lance McCollough headed to her brother's Ledyard home to hunker down and hang out.

There's no heat, no water and no electricity at Larry Torruella's Avery Hill Road home either. But there's a small wood stove, four adults, nine children (all ages 10 and younger) and three dogs.

It could be Monday or Tuesday before power returns, Larry said, but they have a small generator they run a few hours a day so the kids can watch a movie before bed. It's family time, which his wife Sarah said is important to the group.

"We'll keep each other warm," Larry said as he cooked hamburgers for the masses on a gas grill on the back porch. "We're all family, so whatever. We're not strangers, so it's not weird."

After eating, the children - Josh, Maya, Dmitri, Katya, Melina, Ciara, Armando and Adrian - ran around playing, most wearing purple T-shirts with their name on the front and a number denoting their place in the family, in order of age, on the back.

Hide-and-seek has been a favorite during the evenings this week, and Thursday, the boys played with remote-control cars while the girls put makeup on each other.

"They seem to be doing a better job of putting it on in the dark," Larry joked as the girls showed off their work.

One-year-old Gabriel napped on his mother Maria's chest while the adults chatted, a well-deserved reprieve from constantly entertaining the children. With no school, the daytime is easy, Maria said. They go to the mall or someplace warm with electricity and walk around, or the kids run around outside.

Part of the reason they came to Ledyard - aside from the company - was that there are 13 acres and very little traffic in this northwest corner of town, 65 percent of which still had no power Thursday night. Entertaining at night is harder, the parents agreed, when the kids are cooped up and still full of energy.

"Usually we settle in, with homework or reading or watching TV," Maria said.

Dmitiri, 10, said he liked the "self-entertainment" and playing the "rolling game." But most of the children said not having electricity was "boring" and that they wanted to go back to school and see their friends.

"The best part was going to the mall," said Katya, who is 9. "I got a box of Sweet Tarts there, but they're all gone now, that's the sad part."

While the parents said they are enjoying the family time, they're ready for the power to come back on. Larry's home uses well water, so everything, from washing hands to flushing the toilet, is a chore. Showering is done at other family members' homes. Maria has loads and loads of laundry, something she wants to get done before the weekend. And the lack of electricity spoiled hundreds of dollars' worth of food.

Having only the use of a grill has forced them to eat takeout most nights, an expensive proposition for such a big group.

"I can't wait for a home-cooked meal," Larry said. "We just want to get back into a normal routine, that's all we're looking for."

Both families said they were more prepared than last year, when Irene hit. Flashlights, lanterns and batteries were put to use Thursday but didn't mask what Sarah said was the underlying problem.

"It's frustrating for me because the governor and the electrical companies were saying they learned from Irene, however it doesn't seem like we're as prepared as we could have been with all their jibber-jabber," she said. "I just don't see it."

But her frustration was short-lived.

Before settling down to a pre-bedtime movie, the kids ran outside, hooting in anticipation of a small fireworks display put on by the adults.

"If we have to stay another couple days, we stay another couple days," Maria said as she walked out into the total darkness. "As long as we're all together."

s.goldstein@theday.com

Melina Torruella, 6, left, holds the flashlight Tuesday while her sister Ciara, 7, center, both of Pawcatuck, applies makeup for their cousin Maya Laroco, 5, in Maya's Ledyard bedroom. Family members gathered in Ledyard to spend the time together since both families have bee without power since the storm hit.
Melina Torruella, 6, left, holds the flashlight Tuesday while her sister Ciara, 7, center, both of Pawcatuck, applies makeup for their cousin Maya Laroco, 5, in Maya's Ledyard bedroom. Family members gathered in Ledyard to spend the time together since both families have bee without power since the storm hit. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo
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