Residents fume as wires dangle and power slowly returns days after storms

Thousands of people in the Washington area had their electricity restored Tuesday, but the process was fraught with miscommunication and exasperation, and the unlucky faced another day trapped in a hot house or even surrounded by downed wires.

In the District, the city gave out boxed meals to help people whose food had spoiled, and Virginia recorded three more heat-related deaths, bringing its hot-weather toll to nine. Maryland has reported four such deaths, and the District one.

Even as utilities said they had restored power to large sections of the area in the wake of Friday’s storms, some customers complained that the companies were reporting that service was back in areas that still were dark.

And there remained late-breaking outages in homes that had been with power all along.

At 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, Pepco had about 11,800 customers without power in the District, 61,800 in Montgomery County and 11,400 in Prince George’s County.

Baltimore Gas and Electric reported 10,400 without power in Prince George’s and 500 in Montgomery. Dominion Virginia Power said it had 46,200 outages in Northern Virginia.

Some residents said long-standing, hazardous problems, such as downed trees and wires, still were unresolved.

And many spent a fourth day in steamy weather and homes with indoor readings in the upper 80s. Pools and cooling centers were opened around the region, and the District said it planned to resume school programs Thursday.

Tuesday was another toasty day, with highs in the mid-90s and more of the same forecast for Wednesday, the Fourth of July. The National Weather Service predicted readings near 100 for Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

“With three little kids, it’s very hard to explain to them what’s going on,” said Noam Parness, who said his home in Montgomery County’s Kemp Mill neighborhood had been without power since Friday.

He said the temperature inside had been around 88, with the basement a little cooler, at 83.

“Everyone’s going stir crazy,” he said.

Parness was one who said Pepco’s smartphone app erroneously reported that power was back on in his community Monday night.

“I was using my smartphone app to check the status of our outage,” he said, “and around 10:30 when I looked at it, it said, ‘You are not part of any outage group,’ which kind of indicated to me that they thought I was fixed, and we certainly weren’t.”

“They did bring up a small portion of the neighborhood,” he said. “So I think they thought that by bringing that up they brought the whole thing up, but they didn’t bother actually driving around to look.”

Pepco spokesman Clay Anderson said large electric feeders “know” how many people they serve. And when a damaged feeder is repaired, its computer technology “assumes that everyone has been turned on. . . . So while technology believes that all 100 people or all five people are on, someone is not.”

“It is extremely frustrating, and we know our customers are extremely upset,” he said. “That is a glitch that we have found, and we are working to repair that.”

Many were angered by what they saw as the failure to simply respond.

In South Arlington, Colleen Coyne said she was willing to “wait our turn” for Dominion to restore electricity to her one-block-long street.

But she didn’t think the 5900 block of Fourth St. South should have to wait any longer for the removal of power lines draped over the yards, cars and front porches of four houses.

Power lines stretch across the yards of Coyne and her neighbors, effectively blocking them from getting beyond their front stoops, and forcing them to crawl or crouch and scoot under the wires if they want to reach the street.

Eleven children, all younger than 14, live in the 13 houses on the block.

When Coyne and her family finally went out to eat, they had to walk down three houses, to where the wires are about chest high, and clamber under them. Her husband walks with difficulty, using a cane.

But the harder trip was when they returned home.

“Trying to crawl through those in the dark with two kids and a dog — it was harrowing,” she said.

Calls to Dominion yielded no real response.

Company spokeswoman Le-Ha Anderson said someone would contact Coyne and determine how quickly crews could get to her block.

“We aren’t asking for power. We’ll wait our turn for that,” Coyne said Tuesday under a noontime sun. “This is not about our comfort. It’s about lives and safety.”

Another glitch that aggravated customers was the middle-of-the-night robo-call that was supposed to inform people that their power was back.

Kathryn Wilderotter of Takoma Park, who said she lost power at 10:41 p.m. Friday and didn’t get it back until Tuesday night, said she requested such a call via a Pepco app on her smartphone.

But there was no indication that a call would come at 2 a.m. Tuesday, when it woke her up.

Plus, the robotic voice simply asked for her power status.

“They said, ‘If it’s flickering, press one. If it’s completely out, press two,’ ” Wilderotter said. “I was like, ‘What?’ I hit two, for completely out. And that was basically it.”

“I’ve been fairly patient with them,” she said. “Now I’m just annoyed. . . . This seemed to be an information-gathering call, not an information-giving call.”

The latter she had yet to get.

“They haven’t called, I think, because they don’t have anything to tell me,” she said.

Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.

Mike is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics.
Patricia Sullivan seeks out news about Alexandria and Arlington County for the Washington Post.
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