Cleanup begins after Irene’s weekend of destruction
By Nikita Stewart, Theresa Vargas and Michael E. Ruane,
The Washington area began to return to normal Monday after a lashing by the former hurricane Irene, but hundreds of thousands of residents remained without power, and several local school systems were closed
At least 24 deaths were reported as a result of the storm that soaked and battered the East Coast over the weekend, including a Maryland woman who was killed when a chimney toppled and a Virginia girl killed in a car crash.
Officials tallying the destruction left by the storm, which pummeled the coast from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod, said flooding was also devastating in Vermont, with hundreds of roads under water and some of the state’s trademark covered bridges destroyed.
Even as repairs began in the Washington area on a sunny, breezy Sunday, the height of hurricane season saw another storm spawned in the Atlantic Ocean — headed away from land — and a third system under observation off the west coast of Africa.
Irene, although downgraded to a tropical storm and far less potent than originally imagined, cut electricity to 1.2 million Dominion power customers in Virginia and North Carolina, resulting in the biggest repair effort since Hurricane Isabel in 2003, the utility said.
More than 6,000 line workers and support personnel, some from Alabama, Indiana and Michigan, were working to restore power ahead of Labor Day weekend.
In Southern Maryland, which was hit hard, one unit of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant automatically shut down when a piece of siding from a nearby building was blown into a facility transformer. Crews were trying to get it restarted.
In a statement Sunday evening, President Obama said that much remained to be done, but he praised officials from the top down.
“This has been an exemplary effort of how good government, at every level, should be responsive to peoples’ needs,” Obama said.
Federal offices are scheduled to be open Monday, with unscheduled leave and telework available.
Metro said it anticipates operating normally Monday. Two of the three MARC train lines were expected to have full service; limited service was expected on the Penn line. Power was out at several stations, so passengers were encouraged to take flashlights.
Virginia Railway Express was also expecting to operate with a full schedule, although power outages could result in delays on the Fredericksburg Line.
Wall Street was set to go back to work as usual Monday morning, and subway service was to resume.
The storm dumped more than a foot of rain in places up and down the coast, clobbering the Jersey Shore and prompting the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people in New Jersey and New York City. Philadelphia saw extensive flooding, as local creeks overflowed and the Schuylkill River, which runs through the city, became a muddy torrent.
Vermont was experiencing its worst flooding in more than 80 years, news services reported. One woman was swept away Sunday by the swollen Deerfield River, west of Brattleboro, while watching the water with her boyfriend.
As the storm moved inland, rivers rose and towns across Upstate New York were flooded.
Closer to the Washington area, 11 inches of rain fell in Camp Springs, according to AccuWeather, a private forecasting agency. Twelve inches fell in Ocean City, and 14 inches — the highest confirmed total — in Bunyan, N.C., about 50 miles inland from Cape Hatteras.
More than 800,000 electricity customers lost service in Maryland alone.
As of 6:30 a.m. Monday, those who still lacked power included more than 140,000 BGE customers, as well as 43,500 Pepco customers in Prince George’s and 14,300 in Montgomery County.
Pepco also reported 19,326 outages at that time in the District.
Dominion Virginia Power said Monday morning that about 17,000 of its Northern Virginia customers were still without electricity.
In eastern Silver Spring, where residents said outages can be chronic, Miki Bell, a 42-year-old communications consultant, said: “No news here. It’s just sad when you can legitimately plan for the power going out. It’s second nature.”
Trees fell on houses and cars, and the wind and rain left a carpet of storm litter from trees across the Washington region.
A tree outside an emergency operations center in Hyattsville fell on two cars belonging to people inside.
“It was kind of ironic,” said fire and rescue spokesman Mark Brady. “You are in there doing your job, and this happens.”
Quentin Banks, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Emergency Management Agency, said that a woman in Queen Anne’s County died after a tree fell on the chimney of her house and it collapsed, crushing her.
A 15-year-old Manassas Park high school student was killed in Goldsboro, N.C., in a traffic accident at the height of the storm, police there said. A traffic light that was out because of a power failure led her family’s sport-utility vehicle to crash into another vehicle as they headed back to the Washington area from a vacation in South Carolina.
Storm-related flight cancellations continued, although the three Washington area airports remained open.
Public schools in Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties will be closed Monday. Schools in Howard and Charles counties, which were to open for the year Monday, will also be closed.
Montgomery school officials said that all schools with power will be open Monday, the county’s first day of classes. As of Monday morning, seven schools remained without power.
In the District, 13 schools will remain closed due to a lack of electricity or a need for repairs.
(For a more detailed list of closings, click here.)
Because of high water in Upper Marlboro, the Prince George’s seat, officials were assessing Sunday night whether the county administration building and the county courthouse nearby would open Monday. County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said the government will operate either way.
Despite the destruction and disruption, there was a sense that the hurricane was not as bad as it could have been. The police chief in Ocean City likened it to dodging a bullet.
Actually, said Ocean City Mayor Richard Meehan, the city had dodged “a missile.”
“We’re back open for business,” he said, “and we want to welcome everyone back to Ocean City.”
In Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell (D) lifted the statewide mandatory evacuation order for Rehoboth Beach on Sunday morning, and businesses were allowed to reopen. Some roads were blocked by standing water and downed trees.
Forecasters said the hurricane was weakened by its impact with the North Carolina coast, dry air that infiltrated the system and wind shear — changes in wind speed and direction.
“A lot of forecasters were concerned about a worst-case scenario, where the storm did not lose its intensity as it impacted the Outer Banks up through the Mid-Atlantic,” said Washington Post meteorologist Jason Samenow.
“What happened is, the storm did weaken,” he said. “It encountered dry air as it got closer to the coast. Instead of dealing with a Category 2 or Category 3 landfall, you had a Category 1 type of landfall. . . . So the worst-case scenario didn’t really play out.”
In the District, damage was limited to power outages and 40 to 50 downed trees and limbs throughout the city, said Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who visited nearly a dozen sites where damage was considered most severe.
Gray, who was without power at his Hillcrest home, began touring the city about 9:45 a.m., although he’d been out overnight.
During an afternoon news conference, the mayor reflected on the eventful week: Monday’s opening of schools, Tuesday’s earthquake, the decision to postpone Sunday’s dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial and Saturday’s hurricane.
“There’s a movie in here somewhere,” he joked.
On Saturday, the city opened five shelters for displaced residents, but Gray said just two families — a total of eight people — took advantage and stayed at Kennedy Recreation Center.
William O. Howland Jr., director of the Department of Public Works, said residents with limbs and debris in their yards should cut them into four-foot long pieces and place them at curbs for pickup this week.
In Alexandria, on North Overlook Drive in Beverly Hills, residents who had power stretched extension cords across the street to those who did not have power.
“We’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember,” said Dave Lloyd, 68, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1986. He lost power about 1:30 a.m. and said he walked the extension cord over to his neighbor’s house sometime after 7 a.m. “When that side goes out, we do the same for them.”
The borrowed electricity, he said, was enough to keep the fridge going and a few lights on. Then, Lloyd said, it was just a matter of waiting on Dominion. Residents suspect the outage was caused by a fallen tree that brought down the power line.
“The last hurricane, Isabel, I think it was six days we were without power,” Lloyd said. “This time, I suspect it could be a couple days. There’s not much you can do, except wait.”