An uprooted tree lies across a street near American University after a violent… (Mandel Ngan / AFP/GettyImages )
WASHINGTON — The violent storms that ripped through the eastern United States left at least 13 people dead and millions without power on a day when temperatures hovered in the triple digits.
The Mid-Atlantic region had already been baking in 100-plus-degree heat when lightning storms and winds of up to 80 mph tore through the area Friday night. On Saturday, crews worked to fix broken traffic signals, repair utility poles and restore power — and air conditioning — to more than 3 million people.
The high-speed winds are called a derecho, from the Spanish word for "straight ahead" — a long, bow-shaped band of storms that can hurtle across more than 240 miles in a matter of hours.
The violent weather was blamed for 13 deaths, including six in Virginia; two in New Jersey; two in Maryland and one each in Kentucky, Ohio and Washington, according to the Associated Press. The dead included a 90-year-old Virginia woman who was sleeping when a tree fell on her house, and young cousins who were camping when their tent was crushed by a tree.
At least 20 people were injured, according to the National Weather Service.
The governors of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Ohio, as well as local officials in Washington, declared states of emergency. Such declarations 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 states affected, as far west as Indiana.
In northwest Washington, where an outdoor thermostat read 103 in late afternoon, the streets were littered with tree branches and debris.
In front of the Montenegro Embassy, yellow police tape cordoned off a patch of road and sidewalk where a sizable limb had snapped off a large tree and landed on a gray Infiniti sedan parked below, smashing the trunk.
“There was literally downed trees in one of our major roads,” said Nicholas Legambi, who had driven in from Baltimore. “My power is still out. A lot of people are still without power today in the suburbs.”
The Potomac Electric Power Co, which serves Washington and surrounding counties, estimated it would take several days, and perhaps up to a week, before power is fully restored.
“As soon as the storm passed, we had crews starting to assess the damage,” Thomas H. Graham, Pepco’s president, said in a statement. “We'll continue conducting a comprehensive assessment, which we'll use to strategically deploy crews. We'll work full force and around the clock until every customer is restored.”
Washingtonians found life turned upside down by inconveniences including spoiled food and delayed trains. Thousands of commuters were stranded after Amtrak suspended service between Washington and Philadelphia on Friday night. Trains were still not running Saturday afternoon.
One in 3 Americans was in extreme heat Saturday in an area of nearly 600,000 square miles experiencing unusually warm weather.
Washington and its suburbs were the hardest hit as temperatures soared above 104 degrees Friday, breaking the record for all-time highs. Officials encouraged residents to visit cooling centers, including libraries and public pools. They cautioned that the elderly, the sick and the very young are especially vulnerable to extreme temperatures.
“I urge all district residents to look out after their neighbors,” said Chris Geldart, who directs the city's homeland security and emergency management agency, in a statement. “If you know of anyone in your neighborhood that might need assistance, please look in on them. This is especially important if you have elderly or disabled neighbors.”
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Mason reported from Washington and Nelson from Los Angeles.