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Heat wave persists, as do power outages

Millions endure a fourth day without air conditioning or other electricity after a storm blasted through the East Coast and Midwest.

July 03, 2012|By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times

Residents from the Midwest to the East Coast endured a fourth straight day of scorching heat Monday, as power crews worked furiously to restore service — including air conditioning — to the remaining 2 million customers without power after weekend storms.

Morning commutes were clogged because of nonfunctioning traffic signals and roads blocked by trees, and some utilities in areas where outages were widespread warned that it could be several days before power is fully restored.

The Edison Electric Institute estimated that the 600-mile-long band of storms disrupted electric service to about 4.3 million customers in the mid-Atlantic region — about a third of local utilities' total customers. The storm produced the largest number of non-hurricane-related power outages in Virginia history, the trade group said.

Photos: Misery index high in the mid-Atlantic states

In Arlington, Va., problems with the 911 phone system forced officials to make contingency plans. "We're telling folks that in an emergency, if they dial 911 and can't get through, they need to go to a fire station to get assistance," said Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius. "We've never had to do this before."

Public anger was building toward utility companies, including Pepco, which provides service to Washington and to Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland. The utility has been criticized in the past for taking days to restore electricity after winter storms; utility officials said they were requesting help from as far away as Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida and Canada.

Politicians, perhaps mindful of elected officials who have been voted out of office for failing to respond urgently to weather emergencies, pledged to stay on top of utilities.

"Nobody will have their boot further up Pepco's backside than I will to make sure we get there," said Maryland Gov.Martin O'Malleyat a news conference. "We suffered a hit that was the equivalent of a hurricane impact ... and yet we did not have the four days of warning."

As of Monday afternoon, more than 227,000 customers had no power in Washington and the Maryland suburbs, the Potomac Electric Power Co.said. Another 215,000 customers were without power in Baltimore and central Maryland, Baltimore Gas and Electric said.

In Virginia and parts of North Carolina, Dominion Power said it still had 237,000 customers without electricity and predicted that 80% to 85% would have power restored by Tuesday.

Since Friday, at least 18 deaths have been attributed to severe weather in the region. Emergencies were declared in Washington, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio because of extensive damage from straight-line winds known as derechos or micro-downbursts. The winds, ranging from 80 mph to 100 mph, rocketed from Indiana to the East Coast in just six hours Friday night and Saturday morning.

The punishing winds were spawned when convection clouds collided with a mass of hot, muggy air, causing parts of the air mass to collapse and shoot out as high-powered winds, said Calvin Meadows, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the Baltimore-Washington area.

The disruptive effects of the storms were still being felt Monday.

With no working elevators in his building, Eduardo Lerma, an aide to Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove), had already climbed up and down eight times from his 17th floor condominium in Silver Spring, Md.

"It's been pretty bad," the 28-year-old said. "Yesterday, I sat in my truck for about an hour just to charge my phone — and delay the inevitable climb."

Also in Silver Spring, Richard Ginsburg, 66, and his wife moved into their basement in an attempt to avoid the 90-degree heat. They were warned by their power company that electricity might not be restored before the end of the week.

Dan Shultz, 70, and his wife were boiling water on their barbecue for showers. They've decided to stay in their home until power is restored.

"It's like camping, but camping in your own home," Shultz said.

Fabiola Clausen, 50, was still without power at her home in Mitchellville, Md. Friday night's winds, which she said "felt like a railroad coming through the yard," didn't damage her house, but she took her 72-year-old mother to a friend's house in Fairfax County so that she could have air conditioning.

Most of the East Coast can expect highs in the mid-90s at least through the July 4 holiday, the National Weather Service said. That's below the triple-digit heat over the weekend but still hotter than normal.

From Friday through Sunday, more than 1,100 daily record highs were broken or tied nationwide, the weather service said. Atlanta was one of several cities that recorded all-time high temperatures, with a high Saturday of 106.

Daniel Porter, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the eastern half of the country was trapped in an extensive high-pressure system that was pumping hot, moist air across an area from South Dakota to the Atlantic Ocean. The system is blocking cooler, drier air to the northeast, Porter said.

High-pressure systems are common this time of year. But Porter said, "It's the position of the high and the strength of the high, with no relief from other [cooler] fronts, so the temperatures just keep building."

Photos: Misery index high in the mid-Atlantic states

Times staff writers Richard Simon and Jamie Goldberg in Washington contributed to this report.

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