Utilities struggle to restore power to thousands
BALTIMORE -- Utility workers were working Thursday to return lights and air conditions to hundreds of thousands of people who remained without power after last week's violent storms, even as more strong storms moved in.
The number without power was dropping, but not quickly enough for those still in the sweltering dark the Fourth of July holiday. More than 500,000 customers were still out with many of the outages, including almost 230,000 in West Virginia.
The same heavily forested mountains and steep, hilly terrain that give West Virginia its natural beauty were slowing thousands of workers trying to restore electricity.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time, that's what makes West Virginia `almost heaven,"' Mon Power spokesman Todd Meyer said. "When you have a storm like this, that's what make it hell to restore the power. The great things run against us."
Pepco, a public utility covering much of the nation's capital and Maryland suburbs, got some of the harshest criticism. As of Thursday morning, the utility said it had restored power to more than 90 percent of its customers in the nation's capital and Maryland suburbs.
Richard Essel, an inspector for Baltimore-area utility BGE, was overseeing a crew working out of the parking lot of an elementary school. He said trees and access were the biggest problems.
Once crews made it to the downed line, in some cases they could not bring in their lift trucks.
"So, you go back to the old basics. You can't use trucks, so we have to climb," Essel said. "A lot of times we can't get the trucks into people's yards, or up on hills, things like that."
More than 2 million people at one point lost power from wicked storms that converged on Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, D.C., Indiana, Ohio and New Jersey. They packed winds topping 70 mph in some places, uprooting trees and damaging homes. Officials blamed the storms and their aftermath for 26 deaths.
Meanwhile, a new round of summer storms was making its way across Michigan and Ohio, knocking down trees and power lines. Some of the new outages came in areas that already had power restored.
Utilities said more than 300,000 homes and businesses across Michigan were without power following the new round of thunderstorms. The National Weather Service said wind gusts above 60 mph were reported.
In Ohio, downed power lines prompted the closure of a section of Interstate 670 that links downtown Columbus with the city's main airport. The highway reopened by the Thursday morning rush hour.
The president of American Electric Power of Ohio said the damage from the storms has already surpassed what the state suffered from the remnants of Hurricane Ike in 2008.
A heat advisory was in effect for the western half of West Virginia, from the Northern Panhandle to the southern coalfields, with temperatures in the mid- to upper 90s and high humidity. Cooling stations and shelters remain open across the state.