Power outages after storm could last for days
By Pamela Constable,
Hundreds of thousands of Washington area residents, facing the prospect of days without electricity, spent Saturday dragging fallen trees from yards and streets, keeping cool in swimming pools and movie theaters, and searching in vain for open gas stations or outlets to charge their cellphones.
A string of ferocious summer storms whipped across the heat-scorched region Friday night, leaving 1.3 million homes and businesses without power and causing at least five deaths. Two elderly women were crushed by trees that fell through their roofs, two drivers were killed in their cars by fallen trees, and a man was electrocuted by a downed power line. An Alexandria man whose boat capsized in the Chesapeake Bay was missing and believed to have drowned.
With more thunderstorms predicted for Saturday night and more intense heat on the way Sunday, states of emergency were declared in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Emergency vehicles and crews raced to clear debris from hundreds of roadways, secure downed power lines, and restore electricity to hospitals, nursing homes and other critical facilities.
As the region suffered through a second day of 100-degree-plus heat, power companies said it could take up to a week before everyone has electricity again. State and local officials opened community pools, public libraries and special cooling centers. They also advised people to conserve water and help neighbors who might be especially vulnerable to heat. Temperatures on Sunday were expected to reach the upper 90s.
In Virginia, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) authorized the National Guard to assist with clearing trees and directing traffic. “This is a very dangerous situation for Virginia,” he said.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) called Friday’s calamitous weather a “historic event.” “Take care of yourself, and if your house has power and air conditioning, take care of a neighbor,” he said.
Obama in contact
Federal emergency officials said the storms also caused damage in Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and the Associated Press reported 13 storm-related deaths across the eastern United States. The White House said President Obama spoke with O'Malley, McDonnell, and the governors of Ohio and West Virginia to receive updates.
Because of storm damage to local water-filtering plants, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission issued mandatory water-use restrictions Saturday for all homes and businesses in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. It asked residents to postpone watering lawns, washing cars and clothes, and even flushing toilets when possible.
The Falls Church water utility advised customers in parts of Tyson’s Corner, Vienna, Dunn Loring and Merrifield to use boiled tap water or for drinking or cooking as a precaution.
The swift-moving, unpredictable storms raced out of northwest Virginia and Maryland after night fell Friday, and they swept southeast toward the Chesapeake Bay. Dozens of communities across the region were engulfed by howling wind gusts, driving rains and lightning that flashed eerily.
Then, just as suddenly, the powerful storms passed and darkness returned. Residents groped for flashlights as they realized they had lost power or peered out at yards and driveways littered with branches. For many homes, the damage was much worse. For at least five local people, it was fatal.
In Silver Spring, a 71-year-old woman, who police have not identified, was killed when a maple tree crashed through the roof of her house and onto her bed as she slept, Montgomery County police reported.
In Springfield, police said an elderly woman was killed in bed when a tree fell on her house. One neighbor said Saturday that he had rushed outside to help but that part of her house was instantly crushed. Police did not identify the woman, who was 90. Nearby, a man was killed when a tree fell on his car on Old Keene Mill Road.
In the District, Pepco officials said an unidentified man was killed in Northwest after he touched a live electrical wire. In Anne Arundel County, a 25-year-old man from Edgewater was killed when a tree fell on his car.
In Chesapeake Beach, a small boat capsized in the Chesapeake Bay late Friday, and five people were swept overboard. Rescue teams found four of them alive, but the fifth person, identified as Angel Ayala Cerros 28, of Alexandria could not be found. Search and rescue operations were continuing Saturday, but state police said he probably drowned.
There were miraculous saves as well. A tractor-trailer truck was blown against the rails on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on Friday night but did not fall over, although the bridge was closed for four hours.
Mario Grande, 43, felt the wind coming and rushed upstairs where his two children were asleep at home in Garrett Park. He grabbed his 10-year-old daughter and then went to fetch 8-year-old Sam, but the boy didn’t want to leave his bed.
“I lay down next to him for a minute, trying to talk to him. At that moment, a piece of tree about 10 inches in diameter speared right through the ceiling, through his bed, pierced his pillow and stuffed animals and landed right behind me. It missed me by a whisker,” Grande said. The boy was not hurt, he said, and the family ran downstairs and “hunkered down until the storm passed.”
Television and radio broadcasts were interrupted Friday evening with public-safety warnings of heavy rains and winds, but many people were outside when the storms struck.
Tricia Berman was walking her dogs in Springfield when the wind abruptly picked up. “All of a sudden it was just like, woo-woo-woo,” she recounted, her arms waving wildly. Weather services recorded gusts as high as 80 mph near Fredericksburg and 76 mph in Seat Pleasant.
The storms caused widespread harm to regional transportation. Metrorail service was delayed on many routes into Saturday morning. Amtrak service was suspended between Washington and Philadelphia until Saturday afternoon, and only one track was open between the District and Baltimore by the evening.
On Saturday morning, under sunny skies, residents ventured out to inspect dented carports and patios and to drag limbs out of roads. As they realized that their refrigerators, phone chargers and air conditioners were not going to start working anytime soon, they began searching for alternatives.
Power company officials estimated that 1.3 million homes and businesses were without power early Saturday morning, and many outages were expected to last several days. By Saturday night, Baltimore Gas and Electric reported about 379,000 customers without power, Dominion Virginia Power reported about 349,000, and Pepco reported more than 387,000.
“We’re looking at approximately a week before we get our last customer restored,” said Pepco spokesman Marcus Beal. He said crews first focused on public-safety buildings, hospitals and similar priorities, then turned to areas where repairs would affect large numbers of customers.
“Everything is just a mess out here. None of the phones are working, people are trying to leave but gas stations are closed, and there isn’t even any place to get a shower,” said Jessica McCullough, a financial administrator who was visiting relatives in Stafford.
In one Northwest Washington neighborhood, Ivor Pritchard, 60, hauled away branches. He said his wife, a lawyer, had stored their frozen meats in her office fridge.
Some movie theaters reported larger than expected crowds for Saturday matinees. The owners of Wagshal’s Market in Northwest, with no power for its refrigerators and freezers, started cooking food and giving it away.
Gas stations that were open reported long lines of cars. Gayle Day, 42, stood outside a Rockville gas station waiting to fill two five-gallon plastic jugs for her home generator. She said she had driven from Silver Spring.
In Springfield, Bill Callaghan, 59, surveyed two 50-foot oak trees that had crashed into his back yard, at least one striking a corner of his house.
Callaghan said he had been outside around 11 p.m. checking on his dogs when he felt the wind rising and saw trees tossing dangerously. He ran inside and shepherded his wife and their dogs into the basement. “That’s when I heard the big snap and crunch,” he said. “We felt the house shudder.”
Jeremy Borden, Emma Brown, Mike DeBonis, Margaret Ely, Anita Kumar, Luz Lazo, Annys Shin, Donna St. George, Joe Stephens, Patricia Sullivan, Ted Trautman, John Wagner and Mihir Zaveri contributed to this report.