Washington area residents began a slow and tedious recovery yesterday from Tuesday night's thunderstorm - one of the most destructive summer storms in recent memory - that left up to 90,000 homes and businesses without electric power for varying periods of time.
Several thousand families were still without power late yesterday, although utility crews worked around the clock to restore downed wires and shattered transformers.
Throughout Tuesday night and much of yesterday, many homes were without refrigeration or light, restaurant stoves and ventilating fans did not work and some motels and offices continued to be without air conditioning.
Scores of families whose homes were damaged by heavy winds and falling trees performed makeshift repairs yesterday. Road crews cleared the fallen trees and limbs from most roadways before yesterday morning's rush hour.
Wind ripped the roof off a section of the Hybla Valley Apartments at 7811 Belford Dr. in Alexandria, forcing six families to exacuate and seek emergency shelter.
"This storm really raised holy hell," said George Rodericks, director of the D.C. Office of Emergency Preparedness and chief of the mayor's command center at 300 Indians Ave. NW, where workers have been on a 24-hour alert to provide emergency assistance.
"I've been here 22 years," Rodericks said, "and I've never seen anything like it."
The summer squall hit the Washington area suddenly at dusk Tuesday with winds up to 80 mph. torrential rains and dazzling bolts of lighting that shattered electrical transformers and fuses throughout the area. The storm passed through in about an hour, bringing cooler air as a relief to the suffocating 97-degree heat during the day.
It was hot and humid again yesterday, but not as bad as Tuesday. The thermometer hit a high of 92 degrees at 3:20 p.m. at Washington National Airport National Weather Service observers at the airport said it will be hot again today but not as humid. Temperatures are expected to reach the upper 80s and lowers 90s.
Power company officials reported that as many as 90,000 homes and businesses were without electric power during parts of Tuesday and yesterday - nearly 17 percent of all power company customers in the area.
Potomac Electric Power Co., which serves the District of Columbia, most of Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Rosslyn, reported up to 60,000 of its 467,000 customers lost power because of the storm. From 6,000 to 10,000 at widely scattered locations were still without power early last night, 24 hours after the storm, Pepco said.
Virginia Electric and Power Co. reported that 30,000 of its 90,000 to 100,000 customers in the Arlington-Alexandria area lost power, with 2,500 still without power early last night. Vepco's Arlington-Alexandria district also includes Falls Church, McLean and a few other parts of Fairfax County.
Despite deployment of hundreds of crewmen to repair broken lines. Pepco and Vepco said, power could not be restored quickly everywhere because of the severity and widespread nature of the damage.
Both companies were besieged with telephone calls yesterday. Many customers complained that the phone lines were continously busy or that they got only a recorded voice telling them to wait.
"This storm seemed to hit everywhere," Pepco representative Gail Butler said. "Usually they hit just in one or two localized areas, but this one was extremely widespread . . . It was certainly one of the most severe we have withstood in terms of both heay winds and heavy lightning."
She said 500 crewmen, including private contract workers brought in to supplement Pepco employes, were deployed throughout yesterday in 200 vehicles to repair broken lines and equipment.
"More than 100 feeder lines - main distribution lines serving large blocks of customers - were knocked out by the storm," Butler said. Most had been restored by last night, but small, scattered areas remained without power.
Difficulty in locating the sources of a power outage is another reason for slow restoration of power, Vepco representative Susan Ayers said.
"Sometimes the linemen have to patrol the individual (power) lines looking for a fuse that's been knocked out," she said. "That can be a slow-moving job."
Ayers said 90 Vepco linemen and private contract workers were deployed throughout the Arlington-Alexandria area yesterday and were relieved by a fresh 130-member crew at 4 p.m. that continued working last night.
Rodericks estimated the storm knocked down or severely damaged 1,000 trees in the city, creating a monumental jobs of clearing roads.
No place appeared to be spared from the storm's ferocity. The power was knocked out for several hours in the D.C. police 5th District station house at 1805 Bladensburg Rd. NE, and a limb from a huge red ash tree on the White House grounds fell on the ornamental fence surroudning the executive mansion, causing minor damage.
Area hospitals reported treating dozens of people for minor storm-related injuries, but no deaths or major injuries were reported.
Scores of residents described the gradual spoilage of food and melting of ice cream and other frozen goods in their home refrigerators as the long hours without power went by yesterday.
Late yesterday, the power went out for a second time in the Tysons Corner shopping center area in suburban Virginia, forcing some shops to close. Fairfax County police directed rush-hour traffic on nearby Leesburg Pike where traffic signals were out.
Vepco spokesman said he was not certain if yesterday's power failure was related to Tuesday's storm, which had knocked out power in the shopping center for several hours Tuesday night.
At the moment of the power failure on Tuesday, a magician entertaining shoppers at Tysona Corner let the guillotine blade drop on his assistant's neck, adding an unplanned eerieness to the scene.