D.C. area power outages after storm frustrate people with medical needs

Crews in Aspen Hill, Md. work to restore power after a severe storm Sunday that knocked out power in homes across the D.C. region. Pepco brought in crews from Pennsylvania and New Jersey to speed up the effort.
By Stephanie Lee and Rick Rojas
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

When the lights flickered in Adele Becker's Silver Spring home Sunday, she didn't think much of it at first.

But when minutes in the dark became hours, Becker, 73, realized that the storm-induced blackout could pose problems for her 50-year-old daughter, Iylene, who had her windpipe surgically opened last year and relies on an electrical oxygen concentrator system to breathe at night.

Becker tried calling Pepco's emergency line several times, she said, seeking help. What she got was a busy signal, she said.

The Beckers were among the thousands whose power had not been restored Tuesday, two days after one of the most violent thunderstorms in years. The storm, which claimed its fourth fatality Tuesday, also downed power lines and disrupted life in the region.

Carl Henn, a Rockville civic activist, died Tuesday afternoon at Washington Hospital Center after apparently being struck by lightning during the storm Sunday, Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio said late Tuesday.

Henn, 48, was "one of the kindest, gentlest, warmest individuals" and started Rockville's community garden program, Marcuccio said. He was killed at a community garden celebration in the King Farm neighborhood, she said.

Abut 75,000 Pepco customers were still without power Tuesday night, about 60,000 in Montgomery County, 11,000 in Prince George's County and 5,000 in the District.

Pepco spokesman David Morehead expressed satisfaction that Montgomery outages had been cut. "They're all continuing to climb down," he said. Outages peaked Sunday at about 300,000.

But the shrinking numbers were little consolation to residents facing another night in a dark, hot house with a squalling baby, frazzled spouse or sick relative.

The wait has been particularly frustrating for residents who rely on electricity for medical needs, such as refrigerating insulin, using a heart monitor or, as with the Beckers, charging an oxygen support system. "In the case of medical emergencies, you need electricity," Becker said. "We have to have electricity."

Adele Becker said she tried calling Pepco last year to put her daughter on its emergency medical equipment notification program list. Pepco says it calls customers on the list to notify them of upcoming service interruptions, including "severe storms such as hurricane warnings."

Becker said Pepco officials told her three times that no such list existed. But Pepco said its emergency notification program, which serves 1,314 customers, has existed for more than 15 years.

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