Ice recedes but spawns new trouble DEEP FREEZE '94

January 23, 1994|By Peter Hermann and Kris Antonelli | Peter Hermann and Kris Antonelli,Staff Writers

The Baltimore area emerged from the ice yesterday after surviving record-setting low temperatures that caused at least nine deaths, only to slog through slush and flooding from dozens of water main breaks.

Though the temperature climbed above freezing for the first time since Tuesday, the cold spell's deadly consequences continued.

Early yesterday, a 17-year-old from Thurmont died near his home when he lost control of the 1987 Chevrolet Nova he was driving and was thrown from the car as it careened down an icy street.

On Friday, an 83-year-old Curtis Bay man was killed in a house fire that officials said was caused by an electric space heater that ignited a pile of clothing.

The man, whose name was not immediately released, was the city's 11th fire fatality this year, compared with one fatality by the same time last year.

Six people were killed Jan. 9 in a fire that swept through an Edgewood Street house. The fire was caused by clothing piled on a heating grate.

"Even if you take that one away, we're still high," said Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a spokesman for the city Fire Department. "I guess you could attribute it to the cold weather. People are trying to supplement their heat."

Subfreezing temperatures that set in early last week brought freezing rain that left streets and cars encased in ice, then brought several inches of powdery snow, virtually shutting down the state.

Government offices closed early, schools closed for days, mail wasn't delivered and power companies were forced to institute "rolling blackouts" to conserve energy and avoid massive outages.

In the past week, Baltimore fire crews and ambulances averaged more than 800 calls a day, three times the normal number. Chief Torres said 25 percent to 30 percent of the calls involved broken water pipes.

As of yesterday afternoon, city officials had reported 14 water main breaks in Baltimore. They said most would take 12 to 18 hours to repair.

"It is three times the amount we usually get," said George G. Balog, director of the Public Works Department. Since the freeze began, the city has averaged 16 water main breaks a day, he said. Baltimore has received more than 4,000 calls about broken water pipes since Jan. 13.

Sporadic reports of basement flooding from melting snow were made in most area counties, and officials said the problems could get worse as temperatures continue to climb this week.

Yesterday afternoon, temperatures hovered in the mid-30s but were expected to dip below freezing last night. Today, temperatures should get into the upper 30s but once again fall below freezing overnight.

Ken Shaver, a forecaster with the National Weather Service at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, said highs should reach the upper 40s tomorrow and 50 Tuesday.

'Everybody is happy'

Last Wednesday, by contrast, the temperature at the airport reached 5 below zero, breaking the previous record of 5 set in 1976. Also Wednesday, a 1904 record of 6 degrees was broken in the city when the temperature dipped to 4 degrees below zero.

This was the second-longest spate of cold weather since 1966, when temperatures fell below 20 degrees for 84 consecutive hours. This month, temperatures fell below 20 degrees for 77 straight hours, from 7 a.m. Tuesday to noon Friday.

"I know everybody is happy" about the warm weather, said Ken Miller, another weather service forecaster. "They got to be. It looks like we're out of it."

But the warming trend caused the frozen ground to expand, and the sudden change in temperature caused countless water pipes to burst in Baltimore and in at least one suburban county.

"We've had a whole bunch of problems today," said Darrel Magee, a foreman for the Howard County Water Department. As of 3 p.m. yesterday, he had counted four breaks, including a major one on Dorsey Road near the Anne Arundel County line that left at least 100 houses without water for four hours.

In Baltimore, work crews were scrambling on 12-hour shifts to get to all the trouble spots. "We expect problems until the middle of this week," Mr. Balog said.

Despite the warm weather, many side streets and rural roads remain icy and treacherous.

Yesterday, city road crews still were concentrating on main roads, Mr. Balog said. Today, those same crews are being ordered to hit side streets. But he warned that only half may be salted or plowed by the end of today. Narrow streets and alleys may be missed.

Most of the deaths last week were attributed to traffic accidents, including one in Baltimore, two in Harford County and one in Queen Anne's County.

A 67-year-old woman died in Baltimore on Tuesday when she apparently slipped on the ice outside her home. Two Harford County residents died the same day after suffering apparent heart attacks while shoveling snow.

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