wpostServer: http://css.washingtonpost.com/wpost

The Post Most: Local

The State of NoVa
Posted at 03:26 PM ET, 07/01/2012

Tales from the Aftermath: NoVa without electricity

Editor’s note: This post has been updated.

For some in Northern Virginia, power was restored by early Sunday. For many, it was not. Here’s how we are withstanding our latest withdrawal from air conditioners, refrigerators and video games:


At an Exxon station on Little River Turnpike in Annandale, gas prices suddenly shot up to $4 per gallon Sunday. (Tom Jackman - The Washington Post)

Though plenty of gas stations were open around Northern Virginia Sunday, one in Annandale stood out: It was charging $3.99.9 for a gallon, at least 50 cents more per gallon than the other stations.

“There’s a shortage of gas in the area,” said the manager of the Annandale Exxon station on Little River Turnpike, just inside the Beltway. He declined to give his name or comment further.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Mike Nolan of Annandale. It took him $95 to fill up his SUV.

Still, there was no shortage of customers along an otherwise electricity-free stretch of Annandale sometimes called Korea Town.

“It’s a rip-off,” said Abdi Rashid of Annandale. “I don’t know why they’re doing that.”

He had two children in the car, ages 15 and 1 1/2. He had no power at his home.

“We have to do it,” he said about paying the high price. “You have to go outside to get food for the kids. To go outside, you have to have gas.”

He said the same station was charging $3.49 on Friday.

- - -

Though chunks of McLean, including its central business district, had power by Sunday afternoon, vast swaths of Great Falls were without electricity.

“It’s brutal,” said Bob Ambrosini of Great Falls. “I’ve been living in the swimming pool.” He and other Great Falls residents were headed for hotel rooms Sunday night.


A power pole is snapped in half on Georgetown Pike in Great Falls. The surrounding area was completely without power Sunday. (Tom Jackman - The Washington Post)

“We’re always out the longest, because of the trees,” Ambrosini said. He said his neighborhood was without power for five days during the snow-related outages of 2010.

Jane Fragola of Great Falls said she had been helping clean and water horses, but “mostly sweating” and “using up food from the freezer before it all goes bad.”

Great Falls Village was dark. Who knows how many Old Brogue Sunday patrons were crushed. The Safeway was trying to get by on a generator, but the smell was not good and the store was going to close at 6 pm. Some residents, like Tyler Maddry, were hoping to find ice or any edible essentials, but they were disappointed.

As the outage wears on, Maddry said he would probably “spend more time at work, and shower at the gym,” and, as with many of his neighbors, “sleep in the basement.”

- - -

At nine Harris Teeter stores around the region, tractor trailers opened in the parking lots Sunday morning with thousands of bags of ice, given away free. At the store on Columbia Pike in Falls Church, it took about 3 1/2 hours to hand out the 10-pound bags, which were limited to two per household.

“Our customers were very patient throughout the distribution process,” store spokeswoman Catherine Reuhl said, with no reports of unruliness at any of the stores. But all 25,000 bags of ice were gone before noon, and customers who had just heard of the giveaway were still coming. Reuhl said the chain still had the recipe and was working to make more.

- - -

Patricia Sullivan reports:

Fairfax officials said late Sunday morning that 911 service, which was disrupted as a result of the storm, is only partially restored. People who can’t reach 911 should call 703-691-7561 or 703-691-3680.

The failure of 911 service in northern Virginia Saturday cut many residents in Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William counties off from emergency operators from about 6 a.m. until partial restoration started in early afternoon.

The 911 service in the city of Manassas was still not working at 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon, and officials said people there should call 703-257-8000 in case of an emergency.

Officials at Verizon, which provides 911 services to Northern Virginia, said a power failure in one of its Arlington County facilities caused both technical and mechanical damage that resulted in the 911 outage, but the company has been working around the clock to restore full service. The Fairfax and Prince William County 911 call centers are now receiving most emergency calls, said Harry J. Mitchell, Verizon’s director of public relations. But Manassas and Manassas Park are still without 911.

The facility that went down “provided routing for the 911 call centers. Some 911 calls were sent without addresses,” Mitchell said. “Full power is now back on, and we’re working to resolve whatever issues remain so we can get” back to normal.

The 911 failure was a unique event, he said. “We have extensive plans for backup power and they work without a hitch most of the time. In the case of Arlington, this issue affected both our primary and backup systems.”

Mitchell said he wasn’t blaming Dominion Virginia Power, which provides electricity to Verizon’s facility, because that company was dealing with extensive outages. “We’re very very committed to getting this cleared up as soon as possible,” he said.



A large tree sat on a power line on Hunter Mill Road outside Reston Sunday afternoon, closing the road. (Tom Jackman - The Washington Post)
“I don’t ever remember the 911 system going down, and it happened exactly at the time when we needed it most,” said Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She’s held public office for more than 20 years. “Why was there not a backup or something? That’s a question regional leaders will be focusing on with our state partners in the aftermath of the storm.”
Steve Souder, director of the Fairfax County's public safety communications center, said that while the county was fully prepared to respond to emergencies, they depend upon the Verizon network to get the calls to them.
“The storm itself, we handled quite well. We rocked and rolled and handled a zillion calls,’ Souder said. When the 911 service went down at about 6 a.m. Saturday and non-emergency phone lines also failed, “It literally made us dead in the water.”
He was trying to locate a high-level Verizon executive to join a teleconference that the Metropolitan Area Council of Governments officials planned to hold later Sunday.
- - -

Along a long stretch of Little River Turnpike in Fairfax and Annandale, and Columbia Pike in Annandale and Falls Church, most stop lights remained dark except at major intersections. Strip malls and fast food restaurants which would normally be bustling on a Sunday afternoon were deserted.

But drivers were starting to get into the habit of stopping at powerless intersections, allowing cars from side streets to enter without incident. Doug Henken of the Seven Corners area said he drove west to Centreville in search of a cool place to eat Saturday night, and all along Route 50, “People were behaving themselves. I was shocked.”

---

Outside of grocery stores in the Fairfax and Falls Church areas, you could tell who had power and who didn't by how full their shopping carts are. One bag: power on. Overflowing cart, cases of water: no power.

But after two nights in the dark, many in the Falls Church, Annandale and Seven Corners area seemed to be resigned to throwing out food, finding places with air conditioning, and staying near large areas of water or shade for the foreseeable future.

Anne Kress, of the Seven Corners area, wheeled out of the Harris Teeter on Columbia Pike with two cases of bottled water and a bottle of wine. Though her neighbor didn't have power either, she planned to sit by their pool, dangle her feet in the water and share some of her wine. She said her son in Arlington had air conditioning and had 14 people in his house Saturday night, “but he didn't invite his mother.”

Yodit Gebreyes of Annandale said her power had come back about 2 a.m. Sunday. But they had spent much of Saturday as many people did, driving around in the car, which was air conditioned, and using the car to power up the family's cell phones. They also spent part of the day throwing out food, and Sunday they were restocking with milk, chips and vegetables.

Near a laundromat on Columbia Pike, Abaijah Risden, 5, was with her parents waiting for their clothes to dry, their home in Fairfax still without power. “Our water's working well in the sink, but not the refrigerator water,” she reported. She said she spent much of Saturday night “out on the back porch, after the sun went down. Before that, we played in the neighbor's pool,” which her mother added was of the inflatable variety.

In the Seven Corners area, Doug Henken said he and his wife had been surviving on “Scrabble and patience. And if she keeps beating me by 100 points, there may not be much of the latter.” Like many Northern Virginians, he said they had retreated to the cool of the basement, and the “comfort” of air mattresses, to endure the hot nights, and that the trees in the area had provided shade to keep the temperatures bearable.

A downed tree on Churchill Road in McLean. Note the pedestrian crossing sign. Be very careful, pedestrians. (Tom Jackman - The Washington Post)

By  |  03:26 PM ET, 07/01/2012

Categories:  NoVa, Fairfax County | Tags:  NoVa power outage, four-dollar gas, NoVa 911 outage

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company