Lightning hits Comcast 40,827 lose their power

June 17, 1994|By James M. Coram and Ed Heard | James M. Coram and Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writers

A late afternoon thunderstorm that downed power lines and trees throughout the county prompted the evacuation of about 30 employees of Comcast Cablevision after lightning struck the company's business office in Ellicott City yesterday.

No one was injured, and cable programming, which originates in a different location, was not uninterrupted, company officials said.

A 40-year-old woman was struck by a car about 4:30 p.m. while riding her bike on Route 94, 1 1/2 miles south of Lisbon, said Battalion Chief Donald R. Howell, a fire service spokesman.

The woman, who was not identified, suffered severe head, chest and leg injuries and was flown by a state MedEvac helicopter to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. The woman's bicycle was thrown 30 feet from the point of impact, Chief Howell said.

Slippery roads probably caused the accident, and police are investigating, Chief Howell said.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokesman Arthur J. Slusark said Howard County "was by far the hardest hit" county in the Baltimore region, with most of the damage coming from lightning strikes.

At the storm's peak, 84,000 customers in central Maryland were without power, he said. Nearly half -- 40,827 customers -- were in Howard County. As late as 7 p.m. yesterday, 21,988 county residents still were without power.

Mr. Slusark said one of the reasons the company was still getting calls long after the storm was that many people were unaware of the power outage until they returned home from work.

The reason the damage was worse in Howard was that the county suffered a "pop-up storm" rather than a defined line of showers and the storm stayed over the area, dropping a lot of rain.

The storm and the outages had so decreased the demand for electricity in the region that usage fell by 1,100 megawatts from a peak of 5,535 at 2 p.m. to 4,478 by 5 p.m., he said. "To see a drop of 1,000 megawatts is really something," he said. Most summer days, the average usage is near 5,000 megawatts, he said.

By 5 p.m., when the storm had tapered off, county officials had logged at least a dozen reports of houses struck by lightning. None of the damage was major, and no one was injured, Chief Howell said.

The downpour flooded Main Street in Ellicott City's historic district with at least a foot of water, which began to seep into shops, said James M. Irvin, the county's public works director. Several trees had fallen along heavily wooded sites on New Cut Road and Ilchester Road just outside Ellicott City, Mr. Irvin said.

Public works crews worked overtime shifts, repairing traffic lights, removing trees from roadways, clearing debris from storm drains and patching up other storm damage, Mr. Irvin said.

A phone operator in the Howard County Communications Center said residents made "literally thousands" of calls during the brief storm.

At Comcast Cable, the company's evacuation plan was put into effect and the 25 to 30 employees inside the business office were evacuated to a nearby building when employees smelled smoke.

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