On the eve of the Fourth, another day without power
By Michael Ruane and Debbi Wilgoren,
Washington approached an unhappy Fourth of July on Tuesday with frustration building over the pace of power restoration, forecasts warning of more high temperatures and storms, and thousands of residents starting a fourth miserable day without air conditioning.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) warned at a late-morning news conference that the state is still in “the most difficult part of this event,” and he urged the public to look after their neighbors who were without air conditioning, particularly senior citizens.
O’Malley said he had seen “steady progress” in restoring electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes. He defended local utility companies for being “honest and straight up with us” about how long power restoration would take.
But some unhappy residents told a different story.
“We called five times, and they keep saying ‘Oh yeah, you’re a big priority,’ ” said Mary Lou Kenary, of Chevy Chase. Her daughter and severely disabled grandchild are visiting from North Carolina, and she and her husband have been waiting since Saturday for Pepco to remove a huge tree and telephone pole, covered in wires, from their driveway.
“We called again this morning, and they said they had no record of us,” Kenary said. “We’re just so frustrated at how this has been mishandled.”
In Virginia, Fairfax County officials reported that 911 service has been fully restored, after widespread problems caused by the failure of Verizon’s primary and backup power systems during Friday’s violent storms.
Verizon did not officially notify Fairfax County that its 911 system was knocked out by the storms for roughly three hours, according to Steve Souder, director of the county’s emergency call center. He said county officials were aware that the emergency line was not working after it went out at 6:30 a.m. Saturday, but that the scope of the problem did not become clear until Verizon phoned county officials at around 9:30 or 9:45 a.m.
The storms and an accompanying heat wave have claimed at least 26 lives in Virginia, Maryland and the District, officials reported. Authorities have attributed at least 14 of the deaths — 10 in Virginia, three in Maryland and one in the District — directly to the storms. In addition, Virginia has reported eight heat-related fatalities, and Maryland has reported four. It is not clear how many of those heat-related deaths could also be attributed to the storms — resulting, for example, from power outages brought on by the violent weather.
The storms also left more than 1 million people in the dark, and nearly 190,000 remained without power as of 3:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday.
Several public Independence Day celebrations have been canceled in the Washington suburbs, as crews struggled with cleanup and repairs and the National Weather Service predicted more hot and unsettled conditions this week.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) called on the District-based Pepco utility to launch an effort to bury power lines underground, a mammoth and costly undertaking. He is seeking federal funding to help the city recover from storm damage.
“People are fed up” Gray said in an appearance on CNN’s “Starting Point,” citing the financial impact to the city of people who can’t go to work, businesses that have had to close and the loss of food due to the lack of refrigeration.
To aid those without power whose food has spoiled, the city announced plans to distribute boxed meals to the public at six recreation center sites around the city, starting at 11 a.m.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said power was not restored to his district office near Rockville Town Square until 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. Before that, his Capitol Hill office served as a conduit for messages from his constituents to Pepco about outages and downed wires. Like other area politicians, Van Hollen said he shared the community’s frustration with the pace of the repairs.
“Once power has been fully restored, I will be evaluating Pepco’s performance,” Van Hollen said. “That evaluation will include a comparison of Pepco’s response to that of other utility companies in our region”
In South Arlington, Colleen Coyne had harsh words Tuesday for Dominion Virginia Power, which she said has ignored appeals to remove power lines that are draped over the yards, cars and front porches of four houses on her block. She said he was willing to “wait our turn” for electricity to be restored but that the dangling power lines were dangerous and demanded immediate attention.
Three power poles toppled during the storm, and a fourth snapped into two pieces and was dangling from a tree. A transformer attached to one pole lay in Coyne’s driveway Tuesday. Multiple power lines stretched across the yards of Coyne and her neighbors, effectively blocking them from getting beyond their front stoops and forcing them to crawl or duck under the wires to reach the street. Eleven children, all under age 14, live in the 13 houses on the block.
Across the region, utility crews worked through the night to repair damage.
Scattered new outages were reported Tuesday, though the total number of affected households and businesses had fallen considerably from Monday.
By 3:30 p.m., 69,864 Pepco, Baltimore Gas and Electric and Potomac Edison customers in Montgomery County were without electricity. In Prince George’s County, 33,251 Pepco and BGE customers had no power. And in the District, 13,154 Pepco customers still lacked electricity. Pepco said it has restored power to 75 percent of customers who lost it on Friday.
In Northern Virginia, 72,157 Dominion Virginia Power and Novec customers were without electricity as of 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Traffic lights were still out on Connecticut Avenue south of the Capital Beltway, in the normally bustling Chevy Chase Lake area. The Starbucks, the bank and the Chevy Chase Supermarket were powerless, and closed. Only Stavros Manolakos, proprietor of the Manoli Canoli restaurant, was hard at work by 6 a.m., tending to the generator that has kept his restaurant in business.
“My life is relying on that machine outside,” said Manolakos, who invested $30,000 in the generator two years ago, after a year when the restaurant saw 21 days without power. “And it’s not just me. Many of my employees’ lives depend on this place.”
While many area residents sought refuge in shopping malls, movie theaters and restaurants with working air conditioning, some sweltering city dwellers received an unusual form of relief. Responding to requests for help from two residential complexes, Metro and the city deployed two “cooling buses” on Monday — one to Deanwood, the other to Anacostia — to provide a place to cool off.
“We’re just so happy to have someone concerned,” Juanita Hitchens, 77, of Anacostia said Monday. “It was just a blessing.”
One bus was parked near a nursing home on Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue in Deanwood, and the other in front of Skyland Apartments, a complex on 24th Street SE.
“Metro didn’t have to do this,” said James Jackson, a Skyland resident.
In Maryland, health officials reported four deaths related to the heat wave. There was one death in Montgomery County, one in Wicomico County and one in Baltimore; no additional information about the fourth death was available.
Officials said the Montgomery County death was a man younger than 65 and the Wicomico and Baltimore deaths were men aged 65 or older.
Virginia has reported eight recent heat-related deaths — four in Northern Virginia, three in the central part of the state and one in the western section. Health officials declined to provide more details in order to protect privacy.
In the District, Carolina Alcalde, 38, of Adams Morgan, was in critical condition at George Washington University Hospital after a tree fell on her Friday as she rode her motorcycle on 15th Street NW, said a friend, Victoria Page Fulkerson.
Fulkerson said Alcalde, a member of a local motorcycle association, was headed home from Virginia, riding north on 15th Street.
“The impact . . . severed her spine . . . so she, as a result, has been paralyzed from about the midsection down,” Fulkerson said. Alcalde also has a bruised lung, fractured ribs and a broken shoulder blade.
“She has a long journey’s recovery, but she has a huge network of friends that are here rooting for her,” Fulkerson said. “She’s an incredible person.”
In the wake of the storm, many people remained without phone, cable and Internet service. Many school programs were closed. Montgomery County said so many people were dropping off debris, spoiled food and other trash at the county’s Solid Waste Transfer Station that there was a wait at the facility of 45 minutes to one hour. On the brighter side, all indoor and outdoor county pools were open.
Across the area, residents blundered in the dark with flashlights, slept in basements to stay cool, and emptied refrigerators of spoiling food. Some got relief by returning to work in air-conditioned offices.
Roads remained blocked by downed trees, and traffic signals were dark. The Virginia Department of Transportation lifted the HOV restrictions on Interstate 66 for traffic inside the Beltway during Tuesday’s morning and evening commutes.
HOV restrictions will remain in place for Interstate 66 traffic outside the Beltway, as well as for Interstate 395 and Interstate 95.
Meanwhile, the National Park Service said all of its Fourth of July programs on the Mall are scheduled to go forward.
Spokeswoman Carol Bradley Johnson said that 75 percent of the storm damage to tents and fencing that had been erected for the festivities had been repaired. “Everything that was planned is still planned,” she said.
But Montgomery County canceled Fourth of July fireworks shows in Kensington, Rockville, Germantown and Gaithersburg. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said police and fire officials required for the fireworks are needed for recovery efforts.
In Virginia, Jack Brown, director of Arlington County’s Office of Emergency Management, wondered whether that county’s Independence Day events should be canceled.
“I’m questioning having a special event during an emergency,” he said Monday, after a weekend of extreme heat, power outages and the failure of the emergency 911 call system.
“Our power supply is not up and running at full strength, and our emergency communications are not where I’d like,” he said. “I’m really, really concerned about the vulnerability of our community, especially Arlington, but really the whole national capital region.”
Fairfax County spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald said: “We’re very aware of the week that it is, and we’ll be appropriately staffed. The Fourth isn’t just planned by government, it’s planned by communities, so I don’t see how we could cancel it.”
In Washington, public works officials stationed special trucks at six schools to collect refrigerated food that had gone bad. Officials said the trucks would be available from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.
The schools are LaSalle-Backus Elementary, 501 Riggs Rd. NE; McKinley Tech, 151 T St. NE; Key Elementary, 5001 Dana Pl. NW; Wilson High School, 3950 Chesapeake St. NW; Ferebee-Hope Elementary, 3999 Eighth St. SE; and Garfield Elementary, 2435 Alabama Ave. SE.
Although many people were using libraries and cooling centers to beat the heat, some health-care clinics were trying to keep their medicines cold.
The sudden loss of power Friday night meant that many pediatric offices were worried about keeping their many vaccines refrigerated.
About 90 percent of all vaccines need to be stored at temperatures between 36 and 46 degrees, officials said. The chicken pox vaccine needs to be stored in a freezer.
One large Northern Virginia pediatric practice lost power at its Alexandria office on Beauregard Street. Unable to reach personnel at two other offices, the Alexandria staff contacted Inova Alexandria Hospital for help.
By early Saturday, office manager Nicky Lundy and the on-duty physician, Jon Farber, were able to get permission to store hundreds of vials of vaccines, worth more than $100,000, in a hospital pharmacy refrigerator. The Alexandria location still had no power on Monday.
Hospital spokesman Tony Raker said there was no hesitation in granting the request because “patient care comes first.”
Keith L. Alexander, Mark Berman, Amy Joyce, Katherine Shaver, Lena Sun, Ted Trautman, John Wagner and Victor Zapana contributed to this report.