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East Coast swelters without power amid heat, storm recovery

July 01, 2012|By Matt Pearce and Melanie Mason

Utility crews struggled to restore electricity across several Eastern states on Sunday as a withering heat wave flaunted the damage inflicted by last week's lightning storms.

"Unlike a polite hurricane that gives you three days of warning, this storm gave us all the impact of a hurricane without any of the warning of a hurricane," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley told the Associated Press.

Storms that pummeled the Mid-Atlantic region Friday night have been blamed for at least 13 deaths in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Kentucky and Washington, with damage reported as far west as Indiana. Four states and the capital have declared states of emergency, and cooling shelters have been set up to help residents cope.

Some people opted for creativity in their cool-down.  

Eddie Shoemaker, an usher and projectionist at Landmark's Bethesda Row Cinema, said customers have been flocking to the eight-theater movieplex in downtown Bethesda, Md. "People are calling and saying, 'Are you open? Do you have power? Guess we'll come over to see a movie. It's too hot to stay home.'"

Many of the movies, which include Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love," are sold out, he said. 

The emergency declarations in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and the District of Columbia clear the way for officials to seek financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other relief organizations.

Officials said it could take utility companies days to restore power to the nine affected states. Altogether, millions of people lost power, depriving them not only of air conditioning but of a way to refrigerate food. 

Van Bostic, a supervisor with Washington's Department of Public Works, and a crew of five sought to clear evidence of the storm along the city's 16th street artery. 

"We're picking up big branches and fallen debris," Bostic said, predicting his crew would need another two days in the area.

Electric companies are mobilizing for regionwide restoration efforts as, by early afternoon, temperatures across the East and Midwest reached the upper 90s.

The Potomac Electric Power Co., which serves Washington and surrounding counties, said it had restored power to “major electricity infrastructure” such as high-voltage transmission lines, water pumping plants and hospitals.

But the utility estimated it would take until Friday night to restore 90% of the power outages for the more than 345,000 customers affected by the storm. The remaining 10% could have to wait through next weekend, it said. 

The National Weather Service predicted the heat index would hit 105 in Washington by midweek. That’s a combination of heat and humidity, intended to calibrate how much hotter it feels when it’s humid.

Montgomery County, Md., officials lifted water conservation restrictions at noon Sunday but said workers were still trying to clear roads, and more than half the traffic signals around the county -- 440 of 800 -- were still off. Baltimore officials planned to distribute ice around the city.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials said the storm’s path of damage — which also left crippled power systems to the west -- has impaired the company’s ability to import workers who are also needed where they are based.

Trouble certainly abounds farther inland, where the West Virginia Department of Transportation reported that gas stations had been “overwhelmed” by residents trying to fuel up because of the power outages. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin urged residents to stay home while officials worked to bring more fuel into the state to power generators for hospitals and emergency services.

The Appalachian Power utility reported on Sunday morning that more than 195,000 customers in Virginia and 291,000 in West Virginia were still without power out of half million customers in each state. More than 1,500 workers were trying to restore service, the company said, with more line workers en route from states as far south as Florida and as far west as Missouri.

Mon Power said Sunday morning it was using helicopters to look for damage in remote locations across West Virginia, where that utility had 227,000 customers without power as of Saturday night and no estimate for when it might be restored.

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