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After snowstorm, ongoing power outages plague thousands in Virginia: ‘30 degrees in my living room’

‘It’s been so long without heat and electricity. We’re cold and we’ve lost our food,’ said a woman who lives at a motel in Stafford County.

A Dominion Energy crew wait Wednesday at a substation in Stafford County, Va., to learn the location of their next work site. (Peter Cihelka/Associated Press)
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An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of a woman The Post interviewed. Her name is Corrie Hogan. This story has been corrected.

For more than three days, Corrie Hogan and 20 other people were without power at a motel along Jefferson Davis Highway in Stafford County where they live.

Hogan, who has Lupus, along with some elderly people who are up to 85 years old struggled to stay warm and keep their food from spoiling. She said the temperature plunged to 30 degrees in her living room, while she and her neighbors pooled together what lunch meat, bread and Vienna sausages they had to eat and took turns using a small generator to turn on heaters in their room for short spurts.

The motel lost power 8 a.m. Monday after a large-scale winter storm dumped up to 12 inches on parts of the D.C. region and left them and thousands of people and businesses — especially in parts of Virginia — without power and residents in the District waiting days for snowplows and trucks to clear their streets.

The storm hit parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States and caused traffic crashes along a busy strip of Interstate 95 in the Fredericksburg area that forced the overnight shutdown of the highway, leaving motorists stranded more than 20 hours in their vehicles, many without food and water. Several school districts in the region were closed this week due to Monday’s snowstorm, and schools in Virginia announced more closures Friday because of a second storm due to strike overnight. Federal employees were told to telework Friday, as well.

Calls grow for examinations of Virginia response to I-95 backup

“It’s getting to be a direr situation,” Hogan said Thursday morning at her motel where many residents live. “It’s been so long without heat and electricity. We’re cold and we’ve lost our food.”

In a video Hogan made Thursday morning and posted on social media, she showed herself in her one-bedroom apartment at the motel with her breath puffing in the cold air as she issued a plea: “It’s 30 degrees in my living room … Dominion, please, come turn on our power.” Hours later, a Dominion Energy power truck arrived at the motel, and the power was restored at 3 p.m.

Stafford County, Va., resident Corrie Hogan was without power for four days after a major snowstorm hit the Northeast in early January. (Video: Corrie Hogan)

Monday’s heavy, wet snow created a nightmare for power companies, leaving tens of thousands without power in the Mid-Atlantic area.

Jenn Myers, who lives just outside of Charlottesville, said she finally got power Wednesday night after being without it since Monday’s storm. She and her fiance had slept under blankets on their couch with their cat and two dogs to keep warm. They’d buried some of the food from the freezer in the snow to try to keep it cold.

One nice thing, she said, had been neighbors on an email group in the area offering food and hot showers for those without power. Others offered to take a snake that was getting too cold.

“People have really pulled it together these last few days,” Myers said.

Brandon Kendrick, who lives in Oakton, said he and his wife wore fleece-lined pants they’d bought and worn for a trip to Iceland last fall when their power went out for 30 hours. When their power came back late Wednesday, he said the thermostat in the house read 49 degrees.

Metro region continues to recover from the major snowstorm

At Dominion Energy in Virginia, spokeswoman Peggy Fox said it was “one of the worst winter storms we’ve seen.” After the snowstorm, she said, there was a peak of about 400,000 people and businesses without power in Virginia. Of those, about 146,000 were in Northern Virginia. Crews have been working 24/7, she said, to restore power as fast as possible and about 800 workers from Indiana, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas were also brought in Tuesday to help.

Within 24 hours after the storm, Dominion Energy said it had power back to about 250,000 customers. But that was little comfort to those still without power, especially in the areas where the storm hit the hardest, including Charlottesville, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties.

Rural and heavily wooded areas had more outages. The utility company used drones to locate downed lines and poles in wooded areas and fields where the lines had become buried in snow and ice.

“The snow was so heavy and wet. That’s what brought down trees and branches on power lines and poles,” Fox said. Because of the extensive damage, she said crews haven’t been able to get to areas without power as fast. Plus, downed trees on roads, the long shutdown of I-95 and overflow traffic on Route 1 in Virginia hampered trucks’ ability to get to areas without power as fast, Fox said.

By Thursday evening, roughly 38,000 Dominion Energy customers in Virginia — out of 2.7 million that it serves — were still without power. Of those, about 14,000 were in northern Virginia, including about 10,000 customers in Stafford County.

Dominion said Thursday afternoon on social media that it had restored power to more than 87 percent of its customers. Others probably wouldn’t get service back until Friday, the company said, because there were spots workers couldn’t get to, and they had been slowed by road closures and debris. Meanwhile, another snowstorm was forecast to hit the D.C. area Thursday night into Friday.

A couple inches of snow most likely from fast-moving system tonight in D.C. area

Fox said Dominion is prepared for the next storm. “We know it’s coming,” she said. “We were prepared for the last one, but there’s only so much you can do.”

In the District, some neighborhood leaders said they’d gotten complaints from residents about streets being unplowed for several days in some areas, particularly east of the Anacostia River. Other area residents were frustrated that the city’s online snow truck tracker wasn’t accurate, saying at times that streets showed up as being plowed but in reality hadn’t been done.

Marie J. Fritz, who lives just off Pennsylvania Avenue SE in the Penn Branch neighborhood, said her street only got plowed after she repeatedly complained on social media to the city’s Department of Public Works. By the time crews plowed her street late Tuesday night, she said, the snow and ice had mostly melted. Still, other streets near her hadn’t been plowed.

At a news conference Thursday, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said that due to the coronavirus, there weren’t as many people available to plow streets. She said the city’s agencies were prepared for the storm and praised crews who worked “around the clock” to treat and clear major roads followed by side streets. But Bowser said she would be looking into whether “contractor crews did what we expected within the time period they were hired.”

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who chairs the committee that oversees snow removal, said that based on calls and emails her office received, the city’s Department of Public Works “would get at best a C” on plowing streets after Monday’s storm, a poor mark she believes is warranted because of how long it took to get to some streets, misinformation on the online snow-truck tracker and a lack of enforcement on getting residents and business owners to shovel sidewalks in a timely manner.

In the District’s Ward 7, east of the Anacostia River, Travis R. Swanson — an advisory neighborhood commissioner for the area of Southeast Pennsylvania Heights neighborhoods — said his block was still unplowed Thursday morning, and he’d heard similar concerns from constituents in the Dupont Park area.

He said he was surprised how long it took the city to plow streets, including ones that are major thoroughfares, and he worried the delays would make it hard for emergency vehicles to get through for life-threatening situations. With another storm coming Thursday night, he said, he hopes “we don’t see a repeat of what we saw” with streets staying icy and snowy for days.

“It’s now mostly melted,” he said, “but with fresh snow on top of ice people won’t see that in driving and it could be dangerous.”