POUNDING SURF snapped off 100 feet of Ocean City’s fishing pier. Shingles flapped off the roof of the District’s Goodwill Baptist Church on Kalorama Road NW, and high winds knocked entire roofs off homes in Alexandria. Trees were uprooted, branches fell and power lines were mangled. Hurricane Sandy demanded respect as it slammed into the East Coast on Monday night.
But for all the hurricane’s fury, the Washington region escaped with relative ease. There’s a continuing threat that the Potomac River will swell, as all the water dumped on the mid-Atlantic region flows toward the sea. But Metro resumed operations at 2 p.m. Tuesday. Dominion Power reported that 201,000 Northern Virginia customers lost power, with 72,000 still affected by Tuesday afternoon. Pepco calculated that 44,000 of its customers lost their lights but, as of Tuesday afternoon, only 10,000 still lacked power. Pepco also promised Tuesday that 90 percent of affected customers would have their electricity restored by 8 a.m. Wednesday, and the rest by the end of the day. During last June’s derecho, by contrast, more than a million of those utilities’ customers lost power, and repair times were painfully slow.
What made the difference? Part of it may have been tree-trimming since the derecho, or perhaps this year’s many powerful storms had already snapped the region’s most vulnerable trunks and branches. Regional utility and government officials say it’s too early to draw those conclusions. For now, the biggest factors seem to be that the part of the storm that hit the area was slightly weaker and faster-moving than it could have been, and that the region prepared extensively.
Pepco and Dominion recruited 4,100 out-of-state utility workers to help with power restoration. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and state and local governments pre-positioned supplies. Metro closed down preemptively, and leaders across the Washington area issued appropriately stern warnings and sensible cancellations to keep people off the streets.
After riding the storm out, anyone in the Washington region who wonders whether all the preparations were necessary need only look a few hundred miles north to see why cautious planning was not only smart but also essential. Sandy left at least 37 dead. Up and down the East Coast, at least 7.5 million people lost electricity, including those in a swath of Lower Manhattan. New York City saw extensive flooding as water topped its seawalls. Alphabet City was submerged knee-deep, and across the Hudson River, water gushed into the Hoboken commuter-rail station. Fires in Queens destroyed dozens of homes.
If anything good has come of Sandy’s destruction, it is a spirit of cooperation emerging in an uncivil political season. On a conference call with the White House, the leaders of less-affected states offered to transfer resources to those more in need. Separately, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who has been an able communicator through the crisis, praised President Obama for his responsiveness. Mr. Obama canceled campaign events and returned to Washington for the duration of the storm, saying that “the election will take care of itself.” Mitt Romney hosted an event in Dayton, Ohio, to collect relief supplies. The cooperative attitudes will be necessary as the cleanup proceeds, and as officials in the Washington area and elsewhere begin to draw lessons on how to bear the next Frankenstorm.