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In D.C. area, outages, snow plowing conspire against normal week ahead

After two recent snowstorms closed the federal government and schools across the region, people began digging out. The season's snow tally in D.C. reached 55.6 inches Wednesday -- more than the last record of 54.4 inches, set in 1898-99.

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By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 7, 2010

The big dig-out that will send the snowbound Washington region back to work and school will take several days, and a nuisance snowstorm forecast for Tuesday could keep some suburban areas paralyzed even longer, officials said Saturday.

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"We think it will be Tuesday or Wednesday before people can think about getting to work," said Sean T. Connaughton, Virginia's secretary of transportation.

It might be almost as long before power is restored to thousands of homes and businesses after the heavy snow and high winds conspired to topple trees across power lines throughout the region. Streets impassable even for utility companies' massive vehicles amplified the challenge.

"Crews are en route to a lot of outage points, but it's hard to get to them, so we are working with the counties and the District [governments] and their plows to get us there," Pepco spokesman Andre Francis said. "We need them to clear the roads so we can get to the places where we need to go to restore power."

The situation left tens of thousands to wonder when their predicaments would end and what their best strategy might be until then. In a Rockville neighborhood where many residents had lost power and heat, some families stayed put and hoped for the best.

But Jan Sealover and her partner decided to head out on foot -- maybe to a friend's house or a hotel. Sealover could not help but recall a winter storm in the late 1990s when she lived without heat for three or four days.

"You could see your breath," she said. "It began to feel very Dickensian." This time, she was thinking, "Why tough it out for two days and then leave?"

About 88,000 Pepco customers were without power as of 10 p.m. Saturday, including 78,000 in Montgomery County, 7,700 in Prince George's County and 2,200 in the District. Baltimore Gas and Electric said about 11,000 customers in Prince George's, Howard and Anne Arundel counties were without power. In Northern Virginia, Dominion Power reported about 48,000 customers without electricity.

"We are dealing with our most severe winter storm in years, one that not only interrupts electric service to our customers but also poses extreme challenges to the crews working to restore that service," said Paul D. Koonce, chief executive of Dominion Virginia Power.

Miles of roads to plow

In addition to plowing state and interstate highways, the Virginia Department of Transportation is responsible for removing snow on 9,000 miles of residential streets in Northern Virginia. Efforts to clear them could be delayed if equipment is diverted back to major highways Tuesday if there is a light snowfall.

In Maryland, the state plows all numbered highways; county and local governments clear other roads.

"We are estimating that it will take until midnight Sunday to complete plowing operations on primary roads," said Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), whose crews have 5,000 lane miles to clear. "At that time, we will begin plowing operations on secondary roads, which should take until midnight on Monday. Only then can we begin snow removal in neighborhoods."


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