D.C. area storm’s aftermath: Vignettes from a hot city

July 1, 2012

$4 gas: ‘It’s a rip-off’

Though plenty of gas stations were open around Northern Virginia on 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 sport-utility vehicle.

Still, there was no shortage of customers along an otherwise electricity-free stretch of Annandale sometimes called Korea Town. Nearby stations on Little River Turnpike were dark.

“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 11 / 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.

— Tom Jackman

* * *

Too much standing around?

On Third Street at Fort Totten in the District, a half dozen firefighters and Pepco employees waited to find out whether electricity was still running through the power lines knocked down by a large tree leaning against a vacant house. To Marcellus Rux, 59, who lives across the street, this delay symbolized the pace of the city’s cleanup efforts, which are progressing less quickly than he would like. “They had that yellow tape out there like right away,” he said. “But it’s still there. There was some trucks here just looking at that tree all morning, but no activity.”

— Ted Trautman

* * *

The hotel as refuge

The Kahvecioglu family rested in the shade outside Barnes and Noble in Bethesda. Lawn, the 4-year-old son, played in planters and splashed in the nearby fountain. They had just come from a shady walk along the crescent trail and grabbed some cool Argentinian gelato from Dolcezza.

Their home in Silver Spring lost power last night. It wasn’t projected to come back until 11 p.m. on Friday, said Daver, 40.

Hotel spaces were scarce, but both Daver and his wife Omur, 38, worked and they needed to stay in the area. By a stroke of luck, when Omur was looking at the nearby Hilton Double Tree, another guest requested a transfer out, so Omur jumped on the opportunity to grab the room.

“I happened to be right there,” Omur said.

They’ll stay in the room as long as they have to.

— Mihir Zaveri

* * *

Free ice, anyone?

At nine Harris Teeter stores around the region, tractor trailers opened in the parking lots with thousands of bags of ice, given away free. At the store on Columbia Pike in Falls Church, it took about 31 / 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 if 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.

— Tom Jackman

* * *

Washington drivers behaving themselves

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.”

— Tom Jackman

* * *

Generator joys

Martin Williams of Clarksburg, one of about 190,000 customers without power in Montgomery County Sunday, said he bought a generator after losing power for several days in the wake of Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

“This is the first time we’ve had to use it,” Williams said. “We fire up the little generator for three hours at a time just to keep the fridges cold (and also to be able to flush), then turn it off for an hour or two to save gas. Repeat as necessary. It’s not too bad.”

He said he and his wife, Margaret, were taking car rides “just to feel the A/C.”

“Claire, our recent high school graduate, copes by staying away from home to be with her friends as much as possible,” he said. “She’s so desperate to stay where there’s power, she even agreed to go see that movie about Abe Lincoln, vampire hunter.”

— Ashley Halsey

* * *

Sweating and more sweating

Lawrence Evans, 23, sat on a bench at the Grosvenor metro station. He slowly fanned himself with a folded up metro pamphlet, periodically dabbing the sweat beading on his forehead with a tissue.

Evans, a golf fan, had tickets to the AT&T National yesterday, but spectators were barred from the course. Today, he was headed to his office in Friendships Heights to charge up his phone and watch the tournament there.

Evans lives in an apartment on the 13th floor of the five-story Meridian apartment building, and without an elevators or lights the journey can be taxing.

“I’ve been hiking up and down for the past two days” Evans said.

Last night, around 12 a.m., Evans came home after catching a screening of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” He had to use the illumination from how cell phone to guide him up.

— Mihir Zaveri

* * *

Then the power came back

Power returned to parts of Fort Totten late Sunday morning. Vincent Sadler, 22, was happy that he wouldn’t be spending a third night in the dark. “I had to use my phone as a flashlight,” he said. “And I had to keep running to my friend’s place to charge it.”

During the week, Sadler helps run a children’s program through the Department of Parks and Recreation. He worried that if there was no power at work on Monday, the department might have to send those children home. “Since we’re dealing with little kids,” he said, “we’ve got to have that air on.”

— Ted Trautman

* * *

Apartment living

Stephanie Baker, 31, trooped up the sidewalk next to the powerless 15-story Meridian apartment building near the Grosvenor metro station.

In one arm, she had a black Adidas duffel bag, in another a messenger bag and the leash to her 3-year-old dog, a Shitzu-Yorkie mix named Josh that sat panting on the sidewalk. Baker plans to spend as much time away from her apartment on the fifth floor of the building, a serious hike given the non-functional elevators.

“I stayed with a friend last night,” Baker said, explaining the duffel bag. “And I’m just not coming back today.”

Baker wondered how people in floors six through 15 make it up to their apartments.

According to Pepco’s mobile app, Baker’s power is due back at 11 p.m. tonight.

“If it’s accurate,” Baker said uncertainly.

— Mihir Zaveri

* * *

Hey buddy, can you spare some room in your freezer?

On day two of the after-storm, people were giving up on their refrigerators and trying to preserve their frozen food.

Paul Thompson, 58, of Chevy Chase, collected two free bags of ice toward this goal during at the Harris Teeter store in North Bethesda, which is without power and running on a generator. The store had 3,500 bags on hand to give away, and at about 10 a.m. the line of ice-seekers was long.

“I’ll just be glad to be getting this to keep things in the freezer a couple more days, “ he said.

Thompson, like many other residents of hard hit areas, said he would definitely make it to work in the morning. He is a government lawyer and paused to think of one major benefit of the workplace.

“My building is air conditioned,” he said.

— Donna St. George

* * *

Family togetherness

Daniella Thompson, 35, waited with her three kids at a shady bus stop in Rockville. Thompson was headed to Wintergreen Plaza, in hopes of finding a place to charge her phone and laptop.

“It’s been scorching,” said Jaidan Inniss, 10, Thompson’s daughter.

Sunday morning began the second full day without power for Thompson and her kids. Thompson recounted a familiar story of uncompromising heat, unhappy pet dogs, and spoiling food. Sleeping hadn’t been easy, as without power there were no lights, and Thompson’s kids were afraid of the dark.

“They sleep in mom’s room,” Thompson said.

But the power outage also brought some good things. The family played scrabble and Sorry together, and went out for Slurpees at 7-Eleven yesterday.

“Again, can we go again?” pleaded Janaiyah Inniss, 7, as she clutched her mother’s arm.

— Mihir Zaveri

* * *

The fortunate few

Craig Steinberg, 45, counts himself as one of the fortunate few. On Saturday evening, as he and his wife were coming home from a dinner out in an air conditioned restaurant, he noticed the traffic lights near his Kensington home were working again.

Then he noticed light in his neighbors’ homes.

Then he saw a glow from his own house.

Light on, power back.

“I just feel really lucky,” he said. “We were expecting a week.”

— Donna St. George

* * *

Reading by the light of the iPad

Paul Webber, 52, of Takoma Park, sees his neighborhood’s blackout as a chance to catch up on his reading. “I can read by outdoor light during the day,” he said, “and at night I read by iPad.” Webber has been charging that iPad in his car, a solution that won’t work for his refrigerator. “I’m a bachelor, though, so that’s okay,” he said. “There’s not any food in there anyway.”

— Ted Trautman

* * *

No power, no water

Mary and Vito Cirigliano, both 30, have it worse than many of the region’s powerless: they have no water either. In their north Bethesda high rise, all units above the fourth floor lack both electricity and water. On Saturday night the temperature inside their unit was 87 degrees. “And humid,” Mary said.

The couple has resorted to showers in a building gym. Still. “We’re not feeling the cleanest,” said Vito, sitting with his wife at a bagel shop. They have lost a couple hundred dollars in refrigerated and frozen food items. They eat out every meal.

With the work week starting tomorrow, they will give in and move to a hotel. Both are physicians. “I can’t go to work feeling exhausted and disgusting,” Mary said.

“We both deal with people all day.” she said.

— Donna St. George

* * *

A week without power?

Like many Washingtonians, Peter Davidson, 54, is facing a full week without electricity. He says Colonial Village, where he lives, sees a lot of blackouts because the neighborhood’s power lines are above ground. “Even a regular rainstorm can take them out,” he said. “With all the money Pepco spends on repairs out there, I think it’d cost just as much to move the lines underground.”

On Sunday morning, Davidson escaped the heat by heading into St. Augustine Catholic Church, at 15th and V Streets NW. If the heat doesn’t let up this week, Davidson said he’d consider prevailing upon a friend with air conditioning to take him in. “We’ll just have to see how bad it gets,” he said.

— Ted Trautman

* * *

Tipping your movers with beer

Despite the heat, a hearty few found the fortitude to go through with planned moves. “Waiting wasn’t really an option,” said Kate Henderson, 25, who spent Saturday filling up a rented U-Haul truck. “It’s harder today than yesterday,” she said Sunday morning as she carried boxes into her new home off of U Street. “I’m just happy we have power.”

Henderson said she was trying to think of a way to thank the several friends helping her move in. “Something cold, probably,” she said. “Maybe beer.”

— Ted Trautman

* * *

Winter outages vs. summer outages

Peter Emerzian, 55, started his quest for breakfast two hours earlier on the second day of the after-storm, arriving at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Rockville at 7 a.m. rather than Saturday’s 9 a.m. The line was still out the door.

He waited, taking away four extra large coffees and two breakfast sandwiches for him and his wife. He was not charmed by the continued powerlessness. “I’m over it,” he said, guessing he would return to work Monday whether he had electricity or not.

The ordeal was beginning to remind him of so many winter power outages caused by blizzards in his native Northeast. The difference, he said, is that in winter, you can start a fire and huddle.

In the heat of recent days, “the last thing you want to do is huddle,” he said.

— Donna St. George

* * *

It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity

This weekend’s weather was especially unusual for Amy Spring, a Portland, Ore., resident in town for the weekend. Spring came to Washington to escort a group of exchange students from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia back to Portland State University. “These students have come from hot places,” she said, “but this humidity is not what they’re used to.” Spring said she was eager to leave the heat behind. “Look at me,” she said Sunday morning. “I got up early to get some exercise, and it’s already unbearable.”

— Ted Trautman

* * *

Be forewarned

At a cooling center in Rockville, Cecelia and Charles Plost said they were frustrated that there wasn’t more advance planning for such a storm — and they took exception to elected leaders’ comments that there wasn’t enough forewarning.

“A real emergency means you don’t have prior knowledge,” Cecelia, 69, said, spending a second day in the center, based at Richard Montgomery High School, with her husband, 70. “They don’t have a plan for an emergency if they are defending that they need forewarning for an emergency.”

She said officials should have been “a lot more prepared.”

— Donna St. George

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