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Posted at 03:08 PM ET, 08/27/2011

More than 1 million without power, phone service as Hurricane Irene advances


Trees bend around the pool area at the Isle of Capri Resort Hotel on Saturday in Virginia Beach (Michael S. Williamson - The Washington Post)

Updated at 4:55 a.m.

More than 1 million homes and businesses were still out of power or phone service early Sunday as heavy wind and rain from Hurricane Irene battered the Washington area.

In Virginia, the number of outages “exceeded our expectations,” a Dominion Power official said.

About 103,000 customers in Anne Arundel County were out of power as of 4:30 a.m. Sunday, according to Baltimore Gas and Electric, which also reported 22,000 outages in Prince George’s County. Overall, about 388,000 BGE customers were out of power.

Meanwhile, more than 27,000 District customers were out of power, according to Pepco.

About 89,000 outages were reported in Prince George’s County, while another 63,000 in Montgomery County. In Virginia and North Carolina, Dominion Resources was reporting more than 1 million outages, including about 124,000 in northern Virginia as of 4:30 a.m.

Outages were expected to increase throughout the night as the storm drew closer to the region.

Pepco: About 180,000 outages

• Prince George’s County: 89,000

• Montgomery County: 63,000

• D.C.: 27,000

Dominion Power: More than 1 million in Va. and N.C.

• Northern Virginia: 124,000 (most outages in Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria, plus Fredericksburg and Stafford County along I-95 corridor)

• Richmond: 374,000

• Southeastern Virginia: 360,000

Baltimore Gas and Electric: Nearly 388,000

• Anne Arundel: 103,000

• Prince George’s County: 22,000

• Calvert: 5,700

• Howard: 30,000

• Montgomery: 9,000

Updated at 9:10 p.m.

With Hurricane Irene beginning to douse the District on Saturday evening, the region’s biggest power provider scrambled to show it had learned from prior mistakes.

More than 30,000 Pepco customers had lost power by 9 p.m. Saturday, including about 7,000 in the District and 21,500 in Prince George’s County. The rest were in Montgomery County. More outages were expected later.

Bob Hainey, a Pepco spokesman, declined to say whether the outages were more or less than the company had anticipated.

After more than a year of criticism and reviews by utility regulators regarding a poor record of reliability, Pepco officials acknowledged Friday the storm would be a major “test” for the company.

Hainey would not say if he thought his company was passing the test Saturday evening. But he said “reliability enhancement” changes implemented over the past year had made Pepco more equipped to handle Irene.

“We would expect that the work we’ve done over the last year would have an impact,” he said. “But it’s not over yet. It’s not over yet. The storm is just starting.”

Another company spokeswoman, Tosha O’Neal, announced on Twitter at about 8 p.m. the company had decided to stop providing customers with estimated times of power restoration “due to the magnitude of the storm.”

While safety regulations prevent Pepco from sending out crews to work on power lines while winds are above 35 miles per hour, the company managed to address several outage issues as heavy rain and winds hit the District on Saturday night.

Reports about the company on Twitter were mostly positive.

“Pepco is good in my book, my power already back on.” tweeted Queen Travers, an AmeriCorps member in Clinton, Md., after her power was restored in an hour and a half.

“I think they did an excellent job giving such a swift response considering the number of power outages in the area,” Travers said in an interview. “I'm very grateful.”

Other customers were not as happy with the service.

“The fact power went down before storm hit full force shows Pepco isn’t doing a good job,” said Jeff Gates, a District resident who lost power at 5:30 p.m. and was still in the dark at 8:45 p.m. “And most importantly, there’s absolutely no feedback as to what they’re doing to restore power. None.”

Updated at 8:45 p.m.

Power outages in Virginia caused by Hurricane Irene have been higher than expected, a spokeswoman for the Dominion power company said Saturday night.

More than 800,000 homes and businesses serviced by Dominion were out of power as of 8:30 p.m., said Daisy Pridgen, a company spokeswoman.

“It’s more than we were expecting,” Pridgen said. “We were prepared for a huge amount of outages, and this has definitely exceeded expecations.”

That number is still far short of the impact of the 2003 Hurricane Isabel, which knocked out power to 1.8 million customers -- almost all of the 2.3 million homes and businesses that the company services.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell tweeted at 8 p.m. that overall, “close to 2 million power without power in Virginia.”

In Maryland, about 75,000 customers were out of power, mostly in Anne Arundel County, according to numbers provided by Pepco and Baltimore Gas and Electric. More than 5,000 outages were reported in the Baltimore area and nearly 4,000 in Calvert County. About 7,500 homes and businesses were out of power in the District.

Overall, outages in the District, Maryland and Virginia were approaching 900,000 and expected to increase.

 

Outage numbers

Total D.C./Md./Va.: About 890,000

D.C.: 7,481

Md.: About 75,000

Va.: About 805,000

 

Anne Arundel County: 42,165

Prince George’s County: 19,866

Montgomery County: 443

Baltimore area: 5,808

Calvert County: 3,874

Updated 7:10 p.m.

Power outages spread across the Washington region Saturday evening as increasing winds from Hurricane Irene brought down trees and power lines.

More than 6,500 District homes and businesses, mostly in the southeast, were without power as of 7 p.m. Prince George’s County was hit even harder, with about 15,000 customers out of power. Further north, about 10,000 customers in Anne Arundel County and some 5,000 customers around Baltimore were out of power.

The outages were expected to increase Saturday night as the storm draws closer to the region.

Outages were more widespread in Virginia, where nearly 750,000 customers were out of power, including more than 350,000 in the Richmond metropolitan area. More than half of Richmond residents were out of power, and the city announced street lights would not be used Saturday night.

“I only have one friend who still has power,” said Matt Hartwell, a Richmond resident, adding that cars were rocking back and forth on his street.

Overall, about 780,000 customers in the District, Maryland and Virginia were without power.

Utility companies have positioned hundreds of extra crew members to respond to outages, but officials said it would not be safe to deploy them until winds fall to below 35 miles per hour.

Updated at 5:06 p.m.

More than 600,000 homes and businesses in the District, Maryland and Virginia lost power Saturday afternoon as winds from Hurricane Irene toppled trees and power lines.

About 10,000 homes in Prince George’s County were among the outages, which are expected to increase significantly later Saturday as the center of the storm moves closer to Washington. Some 1,000 customers each in the District and Baltimore were out of power as of 4:45 p.m. Anne Arundel County had more than 5,000 outages.

The Richmond area was among the hardest hit, as more than a quarter million customers were out of power, according to Dominion Resources. The city’s official Twitter account tweeted that power was out “all over the city,” including at the city jail.

Most of the rest of the outages were in southeastern Virginia.

Le-Ha Anderson, a spokeswoman for Dominion, said more than two-thirds of the company’s 2.3 million Virginia customers lost power in Hurricane Isabel of 2003. The company is bracing for something similar this weekend, she said.

Anderson and Bob Hainey, a spokesman for Pepco, said extra crews were in place to respond to emergencies but could not be deployed until after the height of the storm passes.

“We really can’t say how long the outages will last,” Hainey said.

Outages in the Washington area and beyond:

District: 905

Prince George’s County: 9,876

Anne Arundel County: 5,288

Calvert County: 2,201

Baltimore: 1,289

Montgomery County: 358

Richmond area: 263,373

Norfolk area: 229,506

To report outages to Dominion Power, call 866-366-4357.

To report outages to Pepco, call 1-877-737-2662.

Baltimore Gas and Electric reported nearly 6,000 outages as of 3:15 p.m., mostly in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties.

(To report outages to BG&E, call 877-778-2222.)

All three companies have called in hundreds of extra workers from out of state to respond to outages, although they will not be able to go into the field until the height of the storm passes.

Anderson said Dominion Power customers should be prepared to be without power for more than 24 hours.

“This is a massive storm,” she said.

In western Maryland, officials were not expecting any significant outages until between midnight and 6 a.m. Sunday.

“Everything is staged,” Potomac Edison spokesman Todd Meyers said. “Now we just gotta see where the storm hits.”

Related:

Md. Gov. O’Malley: Power outages a ‘huge’ concern

— Brian M. Rosenthal

Phone outages:

The Federal Communications Commission said Saturday afternoon that Hurricane Irene has so far left 12,000 people without telephone service — 8,000 in North Carolina and 4,000 in Virginia.

About 130 cellphone towers along coastal areas of North Carolina are down and 215 cell sites are on backup power, the agency reported during a telephone press briefing. The FCC said 5,000 cable television customers are also without service in North Carolina.

The FCC said it has stepped up efforts to ensure that public safety officials have access to communications networks as the hurricane hits the East Coast. It also said it has instructed wireless carriers to prepare for greater congestion on its networks with backup cell towers.

The FCC said it is looking into why some cellphone customers weren’t able to call emergency 911 services after the earthquake Tuesday.

“We are intensively involved in this, and the carriers understand that people are watching them and that we are watching them and that they have real obligations to make sure emergency response is working and should be working,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in the call.

Carriers have prepared portable cell towers that can be brought to disaster-struck areas if cell coverage goes down, said FCC Public Safety Bureau Chief Jamie Barnett.

The FCC has also deployed four emergency teams along the East Coast to analyze radio frequencies of areas to assess if television, radio and cellphone coverage is affected by the storms.

— Cecilia Kang

By Brian M. Rosenthal, and Clarence F. Williams  |  03:08 PM ET, 08/27/2011

 
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