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Storm Left 1.25 Million in State Without Power;  Restoration Could Take Days

By Alex Meneses Miyashita
Capital News Service
Friday, Sept. 19, 2003

WASHINGTON - When the lights went out Thursday in Takoma Park, it felt like deja vu for Nancy O'Donnell, who suffered through four days without power after a storm swept through the area in August.

This time, however, the damage was bigger. Much bigger.

"It's too massive, we all have the same problem now," O'Donnell said, noting that this time trees and phone lines are down and the number of houses without power is significantly greater.

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency said the hurricane knocked out power to as many as 1.25 million customers, and some are warning that it could take a week before everyone can plug in again.

"Unfortunately, with a storm of this magnitude, it's really hard to estimate when electricity will be restored," Pepco President William Sim said.

Pepco still had more than 360,000 customers without electricity in Montgomery and Prince George's counties as of Friday afternoon.

Other companies were struggling as well.

More than 650,000 Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. customers -- or six in 10 of its users -- ultimately lost power as a result of the storm, according to spokeswoman Rose Kendig. Among the most severely affected counties are Anne Arundel and Calvert, where over 80 percent of BGE customers were out of power.

BGE had restored electricity to about 50,000 customers Friday, although it had no idea how long it will take to fix the whole mess, since it has not finished assessing the magnitude of the damage, Kendig said.

The Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative hopes the majority of its 87,000 affected customers will have power restored over the weekend, though some may take until Monday, spokeswoman Janice Lantz said.

Hundreds of crews have been at work and were expected to continue working around the clock, but some utility companies were still seeking more crews from around the country to speed up the restoration.

Companies have also started to distribute dry ice to help affected customers, although the hundreds of thousand pounds of secured ice may not be enough in the end.

"People's expectations for dry ice are high, but there's a limited amount," Sim said, despite the fact that Pepco had distributed 350,000 pounds of dry ice Friday and expected to distribute an additional 250,000 pounds.

Despite numerous preventive measures companies took before the hurricane, customers have no alternative but to wait and hope power is restored as quickly as possible, officials said.

"We were anticipating the worst, and hoping for the best," Kendig said. "But unfortunately, we received the worst."

O'Donnell simply hopes restoration won't take too long, because it would "get really tiring and ugly." She does not relish the thought of days without access to the Internet, nights without light and no hot water for showers -- just like the last time power got knocked off.

Right now, however, she is simply "resigned" to the situation.

"At least it's cool now, and there's wind coming into the house," she said.

Across from her street, Isabel's aftermath left a fallen tree and a damaged phone line on the ground, she said. Neighbors came out, some of them with their cameras, while children sat on the trunk of the tree.

"It's more like a party atmosphere," O'Donnell said. "Everybody's amazed, because it could've been worse."


Copyright 2003 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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