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Millions Still in the Dark After Storm Hits East Coast

Source: WSJ

Posted on 03 Jul 2012 by Neilson

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east coast stormMore than two million utility customers in the mid-Atlantic region remained in the dark Monday after weekend wind storms swept through Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and other states, killing 22 people.

Utilities and public officials characterized the storm as a freak weather event that caught utilities off guard, leaving them little time to prepare for winds that knocked down trees and damaged electrical equipment.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said the state's utilities and agencies were working to restore power as quickly as possible, but that the lack of warning left the state unprepared for the storm.

"We suffered a hurricane impact without the three to four days of hurricane warning," Mr. O'Malley said during a press conference at the state Emergency Management Agency in Reisterstown, Md. Mr. O'Malley added that his office was pushing Maryland's two large utilities, Pepco and Baltimore Gas & Electric, to "restore power as quickly as they can."

About 442,600 Maryland utility customers, or about 16% of the state, were without power Monday, while about 417,300 customers in Virginia, or about 11% of the state's utility customers, also were in the dark, the U.S. Department of Energy said.

Storm-related deaths in Maryland reached six, a spokeswoman in the governor's office said.

Luke Johnson, a 42-year-old project manager who works in Washington, D.C., has been without power since Friday night at his Takoma Park, Md., apartment.

"It's frustrating. It's an annoyance," he said, adding that he has been staying at his girlfriend's apartment in Washington watching "lots of movies in the air conditioning."

Nalishha Mehta, 36, who works at a nonprofit in Washington, said half her colleagues didn't have power, though she's fortunate in having electricity.

"I think Pepco is limited in what they can do. They're not magicians," she said. "But this is not the first time that this has been happening. We don't put enough resources and infrastructure in place" to prevent such outages.

Pepco, which serves customers in Maryland and Washington, D.C., called the storm "one of the most catastrophic weather events" to hit the mid-Atlantic since a 2003 hurricane swept through the region. The company said it had restored power to about half of its 440,000 customers.

Baltimore Gas & Electric said it had restored power to about two-thirds of more than 600,000 customers who lost electricity. Pepco and BGE are owned by Exelon Corp.

West Virginia utilities also struggled to restore power, with more than 457,000 customers, or roughly 45% of the state's utility customers, still without power on Monday, according to the Energy Department.

In West Virginia, FirstEnergy Corp.'s MonPower utility had 159,000 customers without electricity, while American Electric Power Co. Inc.'s Appalachian Power had 263,845 customers still in the dark.

Fallen trees and other objects tossed around by the storm damaged transmission lines and substations that carry electricity around the region, FirstEnergy and other utilities said.

FirstEnergy said some customers in West Virginia and other hard-hit areas could be without power as long as a week.

In the days leading up to a hurricane, utilities routinely arrange to borrow crews, trucks and other equipment from other utilities in states outside the path of the storm. Last Friday's storm, which wasn't a hurricane, came with almost no warning, leaving utilities with fewer resources than they generally have during a hurricane.

Meteorologists called Friday's storm a "super derecho," a powerful wind storm that travels in a straight line. Thousands of electrical lines were knocked down by trees uprooted by high winds, the Edison Electric Institute, a utility industry group, reported.