Storm ‘largest outage since Hurricane Isabel’ -- Gazette.Net


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This story was updated at 9:45 a.m. on July 3, 2012.

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Montgomery County continued to dig out Monday afternoon from Friday night’s deadly thunderstorm with more than 132,500 homes still without power and 130 roads partially closed by fallen trees.

At the peak of the outage, 443,000 customers across Pepco’s service area lost power. By 11 a.m. Monday, power was returned to about 50 percent. In Prince George’s County, 59,000 lacked power and in the District of Columbia, 40,500.

But for those without power for three days with temperatures in the 90s, the work was not progressing fast enough.

“We’re facing many challenges,” Pepco spokeswoman Myra Oppel said. “Trees have blocked us from getting to much of the damaged equipment. We still have tremendous devastation to work through.”

With power out from Indiana to Maryland, power companies were drawing on linemen and work crews from as far away as Texas to help restore downed lines. More than 600 extra workers from as far south as South Carolina and as far west as Texas were expected to arrive Monday to help with restoration efforts, Pepco spokesman Clay Anderson said.

The storm left an estimated 2 million in the region without power, and was called the largest outage since Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and the worst nonhurricane-related outage ever, Anderson said.

By the numbersPotomac Edison’s website listed 556 Montgomery customers and 21 Frederick County customers without power as of 9:45 a.m. Tuesday.

Pepco had 77,050 in Montgomery County without power and an additional 25,202 in Prince George’s County out as of 9:45 a.m. Tuesday.

At the same time, BGE still was working to restore power to 15,603 customers in Prince George’s County and 1,324 in Montgomery.

SMECO’s website listed 116 Prince George’s County customers still without power, compared with 3,000 at the height of the storm.

Montgomery County officials said on Saturday in the immediate aftermath of the storm, 70 roads were completely closed and more than 200 were partially closed by fallen trees. By Monday morning, many road crews had reopened many of the roads, but 130 still remained partially closed because of fallen trees and branches.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, 500 of the county’s 800 traffic signals were out, Montgomery County Police spokeswoman Lucille Baur said.

By Monday morning’s rush hour, 240 remained out — creating some hornblowing, as not all motorists knew to treat intersections with lights out as four-way stops.

Police had called in extra officers for the morning rush, but were only about to have police directing traffic at about 80 intersections Monday morning, Baur said.

The aftermathThe National Weather Service called the vast storm a derecho, a storm system fueled by the extremely high temperatures colliding with humid air over a wide front hundreds of miles wide. A wind gust of 65 mph was recorded in Rockville during the storm.

On Saturday, the extremely high temperatures returned and remained. At least three hospitals reported they had treated a significant increase in heat-related ailments, but exact figures were unavailable as of Monday afternoon.

In addition, the state health department reported that two people died, including a Montgomery County man, from heat-related ailments.

A 71-year-old Silver Spring woman was killed when a tree crashed into her home during the storm.

BGE and SMECOAfter losing power around 9 p.m. Friday, Trina Ferguson of Bowie said BGE restored her power within about 24 hours. She said the utility’s response effort was the best she had seen it in her 10 years as a city resident.

“You could definitely tell they were working at least in our area to get things up and running, clearing out downed power lines and trees,” Ferguson said. “... BGE seemed like they were on it this time. It’s the best they’ve done since I’ve been in Bowie.”

Tom Dennison, a spokesman for SMECO, which covers southern Prince George’s communities such as Accokeek, Brandywine and Aquasco, along with Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties, said 3,000 customers were without power at the height of the storm.

“This is the third-largest restoration in our history,” Dennison said. “We have definitely been working around the clock, utilizing upwards of 75 crews, along with 21 contract crews from [other states].”

Friday’s storm also caused twice as many outages as Hurricane Irene in August.

Closures and rescheduling

In Montgomery County, the circuit court house was closed while district court remained open.

More than 170 schools without power, programs such as summer camps at the schools were cancelled.

County offices remained open, although not all had power.

Federal officials allowed for unscheduled leave and telecommuting because many buildings were without power.

A spokeswoman for the federal Office of Personnel Management said it was unknown how many workers used the unscheduled leave or telework.

The liberal federal leave for workers coupled with other workers staying home because they did not have a place to take their children for day care helped alleviate what could have been a nightmare for commuters.

A mandatory water restriction was lifted at noon Sunday as power outages knocked out electricity to pumping stations and filtration plants, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission spokesman I.J. Hudson said.

“[The storm] knocked out a good percent of power to our remote pumping stations on the water side and also knocked out both of our water filtration plants,” Hudson said.

In Frederick County, water and ice were available on Monday at: Martin's Food Stores, the Giant Eagle, 1305 West 7th St., and the Giant Eagle, 1275 W. Patrick St.

‘A five-star heaven’

The combination of hot temperatures with no power for air conditioning sent people to motels or friends. The county had opened three centers for people to use, but closed one due to lack of usage.

About 25 people used the White Oak Recreation Center for overnight shelter while another 104 used Richard Montgomery High School, Baur said.

Nancy Hegle, 63, of Rockville said she arrived at the cooling shelter at Richard Montgomery High School on Sunday morning after losing power at her townhouse on Friday night.

“I was in bad shape when I got here. My blood pressure was up, I was exhausted and dehydrated and my stress level was high,” she said.

A nurse checked her out and with the care and cool temperature at the shelter she soon felt better, Hegle said.

She stayed Sunday night, went home to shower Monday morning and returned to the school to stay until her power came on.

“They offer things I didn’t anticipate, like pads for the cots to make you more comfortable and lemonade,” Hegle said. “It is a five-star heaven, I’m never going anywhere else again.”

County spokesman Patrick Lacefield said he did not know how long the two shelters would remain open, but demand would drive the decision.

Related story: Increasing use of generators raising safety concerns

Staff writers Peggy McEwan, Jeremy Arias and Erich Wagner contributed to this report.