Baltimore power outages dip below 53,000 for first time since storms
Chance for severe weather could slow restoration efforts
Tree damage along Northern parkway and Dunroming, where three large trees in a row were toppled. The homes seemed to escape serious damage. (Gene Sweeney Jr./Baltimore Sun / July 3, 2012)
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The breakdown is: 6,573 customers out of power in Anne Arundel County and 129,165 customers with power restored in Anne Arundel County; 24,234 customers out of power in Baltimore County and 188,940 customers with power restored in Baltimore County; 13,899 customers out of power in Baltimore City and 163,606 customers with power restored in Baltimore City; 202 customers out of power in Calvert County and 5,415 customers with power restored in Calvert County, and 765 customers out of power in Carroll County and 6,221 customers with power restored in Carroll County.
Also, 368 customers are still out of power in Harford County and 18,761 customers with power restored in Harford County; 2,855 customers out of power in Howard County and 60,287 customers with power restored in Howard County; 313 customers out of power in Montgomery County and 10,020 customers with power restored in Montgomery County, and 3,292 customers out of power in Prince George's County and 71,803 customers with power restored in Prince George's County.
Meanwhile, frustrations continued to mount in the neighborhood pockets without electricity, as temperatures reached into the 90s for the eighth straight day. Maryland electric regulators planned to discuss an investigation into the outages and response at an event planned for Thursday.
On one North Baltimore block still in the dark, there was little to do but sit outside in the shade and banter with neighbors about BGE's priorities in power line repairs. The habitants of the 6100 block of Parkway Drive near Chinquapin Park planned a block party barbecue to mark the holiday and what they hoped to be an imminent end to their suffering.
"What else are you going to do?" said Carol Karwacki, sitting on his front porch with his wife, Jacqueline. Two BGE tree-trimming crews were meanwhile working in the alley behind the Karwackis' house on a repair job expected to last through the day and eventually restore power to about 100 people.
Across the street, other residents were more frustrated. Many residents lamented that theirs always seemed to be the block that was last to be plowed of snow or cleared of downed trees. Katrina Mobuary and her daughter, Tytiana White, said they are suffering with asthma without any air-conditioning, but were thankful they were able to receive extra food stamps to replace what spoiled in the refrigerator.
Four people have died in recent days from health-related illnesses and another three died in the storms Friday. State health department officials reported several complaints of heat-related infirmities Tuesday — the most recent day for which data was available — but no deaths.
For many, the hot conditions were just a nuisance on a day reserved for relaxation and remembrance.
"After what you have been through in the past three to four days, you've still been able to come together to celebrate," Baltimore City Councilwoman Sharon Greene Middleton told the crowd before the Spirit of Mount Washington Independence Day Parade.
Megan Graney, who lives on the Parkway Drive block along with her sister and their elderly mother, said it's easy for residents to get angry when they see smaller repairs being made in nearby neighborhoods, while blocks like hers, with dozens of downed trees and at least four downed electricity poles, wait.
"They don't realize it's going to take two days to fix it," Graney said of the utility. "It breeds a bad feeling toward BGE."
Others in the neighborhood criticized BGE for not doing enough to get ready for Friday's storm.
"There's an old saying, 'expect the unexpected,'" said Joe Donofrio. "That's what emergency preparedness is."
Across town, at BGE's storm center in Windsor Mill, the utility's chief operating officer defended the response.
It would be too expensive for BGE to keep on a permanent crew large enough to handle the cleanup of a storm of this magnitude, Steve Woerner said. And it can take days to mobilize extra crews from outside Maryland, given that the damage from the storm stretched 600 miles to Indiana and Illinois.
All of BGE's employees have a second or even third role on top of their normal jobs to respond to storms, and they work 12-hour shifts every day that the utility is in storm response mode. About 4,000 people were involved in the response effort as of Wednesday afternoon, 1,300 of them from outside Maryland, and another 160 were expected Wednesday night.
About 50 BGE workers filled the cubicle desks of what is normally a training room to gather information from outage reports and use them to dispatch line repair crews. Nearby in a conference room-turned-communication center, staff who normally work in budgeting or training instead coordinate hotel rooms and parking areas for the crews headed to help with the repairs.
Staff use the location of outage calls, along with details shared by customers, to focus resources on sites where the most customers can be helped.
"Sometimes it greatly aids the diagnosis," Woerner said of customers' calls.
While the first repairs restored power to thousands of customers, the average repair job Wednesday was for the benefit of about 50 customers, on average, he said.
Maryland Public Service Commission Chairman Douglas Nazarian on Wednesday scheduled a news conference on the issue for 11 a.m. Thursday. He will discuss what qualifies as a "major storm event," the commission's role during major storms and will detail the post-storm reports and hearings required of utilities.
Some, including state Sen. James C. Rosapepe, a Democrat representing Prince George's and Anne Arundel Counties, have called for BGE to explore the burying of power lines.
BGE spokesman Rob Gould dismissed the suggestion as impractical, estimating it would cost $1 million per mile of overhead line, but Nazarian is expected to address that question, as well.
Despite the frustration, many were able to enjoy the Independence Day celebrations, albeit under unusual circumstances. An annual tradition of free admission to the Mount Washington Swim Club had to be canceled because of a power outage there.
Caroline Tufts, an organizer of the 13th annual Mount Washington parade, was without power and spending nights at a friend's house in Parkville, but the event went on as usual.
"We're surviving," Tufts said. "It's not the end of the world. We could be in Colorado, dealing with fires."
Baltimore Messenger reporter Larry Perl contributed to this article.