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Heat wave adds to misery of storms, power outages in East

Millions of people lose power. Four states and the District of Columbia declare emergencies.

July 02, 2012|By Matt Pearce and Melanie Mason, Los Angeles Times
  • A crew clears a fallen tree in Washington. A heat wave is adding to the misery of last week's storms, which left millions of people without electricity.
A crew clears a fallen tree in Washington. A heat wave is adding to the misery… (Brendan Smialowski, AFP/Getty…)

WASHINGTON — Utility crews struggled to restore electricity across several Eastern states Sunday as a withering heat wave heightened the misery inflicted by last week's violent storms.

"But unlike a polite hurricane that gives you three days of warning, this storm gave us all of the impact of a hurricane without any of the warning of a hurricane," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley told CNN's "State of the Union."

Storms that pummeled the mid-Atlantic region Friday night have been blamed for at least 14 deaths in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Kentucky and Washington, with damage reported as far west as Indiana. Four states and the nation's 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 Theaters' Bethesda Row Cinema, said customers had been flocking to the eight-theater complex 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 were sold out, he said.

Once the federal government signs off, the emergency declarations in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and the District of Columbia will 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. Millions of people lost power, depriving them not only of air conditioning but of refrigeration.

"Food, ice — we're all sharing," Elizabeth Knight, 51, told the Associated Press. She lives in Lakeside, a suburb of Richmond, Va.

In Silver Spring, Md., just north of Washington, a row of cars inched through a residential neighborhood Sunday, diverted from a major artery that was closed because of fallen trees and downed power lines.

As she watched, resident Kitty Owens shuddered to think of Monday.

"I have to go into the District and I'm living in fear," she said. "The commute is going to be hell."

Owens, a meeting planner, said her power had been restored by Saturday afternoon but many neighbors' homes remained dark.

Late Sunday, federal and state officials gave many workers the option of staying home.

Van Bostic, a supervisor with Washington's Department of Public Works, and a crew of five were busy cleaning up after the storm.

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

Electric companies were mobilizing for regionwide restoration efforts as temperatures across the East and Midwest reached the upper 90s. At Reagan National Airport, the high hit 99, and Atlanta set a record with 105.

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. The index combines heat and relative humidity to indicate 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 restore traffic signals. Baltimore officials planned to distribute ice around the city.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials said the storms' path of damage — which also left crippled power systems to the west — had impaired the company's ability to import workers because many were needed where they were based.

In West Virginia, the Department of Transportation reported that gas stations had been overwhelmed by people 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.

"We're just in a waiting mode to get some water, some generators in here to support some critical infrastructure," said Margaret Agee, director of emergency services in Raleigh County, W.Va. "The power outage put some of the hospitals in jeopardy, but the power company got on top of that pretty quickly."

About 77% of Raleigh County was still without power Sunday evening, she said.

melanie.mason@latimes.com

Matt Pearce is a special correspondent.

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