Fast-moving storm batters D.C. area; 2 deaths, mass power outages reported

Severe thunderstorms felled trees and power lines across much of the Washington area Sunday afternoon, killing Four people and leaving hundreds of thousands without power.
By Stephanie Lee and Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 26, 2010

One of the most violent and destructive thunderstorms in years ripped across the Washington region Sunday, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses, starting fires, damaging houses, and causing at least two deaths.

A 6-year-old boy was killed when struck by a falling section of a tree in Loudoun County about 3:15 p.m. And a woman was killed when a tree fell on a minivan in College Park about 3:30 p.m.

Power was cut off to a WSSC plant that supplies 70 percent of the water for Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Authorities asked residents to curb consumption and refrain from any outdoor use.

"We're calling for mandatory water restrictions to ensure fire protection and to ensure everyone can have at least a minimum" of water for household use, said a WSSC spokesman.

Amid gusts said to be 60 mph or more, trees and branches across the area toppled onto electrical wires, streets and houses. Roofs were lifted from buildings. Roads were blocked, and dozens of traffic signals went dark.

Late Sunday night, about 400,000 homes and businesses from Northern Virginia to Maryland remained in the dark. More than 290,000 Pepco customers were without electricity, the vast majority in Montgomery County.

Stores, movie theaters and concerts went dark, as did some Metro stations. Montgomery fire department personnel freed residents from stalled elevators. A Metro passenger was trapped in an elevator at the Wheaton Station; after being extricated, she was treated for heat exhaustion.

Some Pepco customers said an automated telephone-line message told them that electricity might not be restored for at least a week, but a spokeswoman for the utility said no estimate for full restoration had been made.

The number of outages in the Pepco service area appeared to be the largest since Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

With power and air conditioning out in thousands of Prince George's homes, county executive Jack Johnson said that six fire stations and all community and recreation centers would be open as cooling stations.

"I ask everyone to check on their neighbors to be sure they are safe," he said.

The Loudoun death occurred as the boy was walking on a trail with his family near the Claude Moore Recreation Center in Sterling, a spokesman for the county sheriff's department said.

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