Storm is quick its effects linger

Power, schools, light rail disrupted

June 02, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Caitlin Francke, Mike Farabaugh, Jamie Smith, Dail Willis and Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.

An early-morning storm knocked down trees and power lines yesterday, caused two fires, closed six Baltimore schools, left thousands of homes without power and blacked out the Howard County Courthouse in Ellicott City.

The storm that swept through Baltimore shortly after midnight yesterday left 61,000 customers without power, hitting hardest in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, said Jessica Brown, a spokeswoman for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

Some 8,770 customers remained without power last night, but service was expected to be restored to all customers by 1 p.m. today, she said.

"They're making pretty aggressive progress," she said.

Today's forecast calls for partly cloudy skies, with highs in the 80s and a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon.

The storm started in central Pennsylvania and moved southeast, hitting Baltimore just after midnight with powerful winds and driving rains that lasted less than an hour, said Dewey Walston, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

"It was a ferocious lightning storm, but it didn't get a huge amount of rain," said Christopher Strong, another NWS meteorologist.

About half an inch of rain fell in Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard and Frederick counties. Downtown Baltimore got .32 inches and .19 inches fell at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, according to weather service forecasters.

Winds were clocked at 59 mph in Towson, Walston said.

In Ellicott City, the storm split a 100-foot tree behind the historic courthouse. The tree crashed down on electric lines, causing a utility pole to snap and cutting power to the building.

Howard County Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. closed the courthouse about 9 a.m., postponing roughly 40 cases scheduled to be heard yesterday because basic operations could not be performed. With no air conditioning and no windows to open, the clerk's office was "absolutely stifling," he said.

About four settlement conferences were held in a jury deliberation room, where windows provided the only light.

Power to the 19th-century stone building was restored at 12: 45 p.m. Kane said he expects the courthouse to be open today.

Other areas of Howard County sustained minor damage, according to fire and rescue officials. An Ellicott City apartment caught fire Sunday night -- charring the master bedroom -- after a family lighted candles when they lost power.

In Baltimore, the storm disrupted classes at 14 city schools. Holabird Elementary, damaged by an electrical fire caused by the storm, was closed. Five other city schools sent students home early after a morning in classrooms without lights, air conditioning or computer access.

Officials closed Robert Poole Middle School and Bentalou, Callaway, Lockerman-Bundy and Lyndhurst elementary schools at noon, said city schools spokeswoman Tonia Williams.

Eight other elementary, middle and high schools did not have power in the morning but remained open, said Karol Mason, assistant to the director of public relations for city schools. Mason was not sure if power was restored to the schools yesterday.

Some students complained about attending class in the dark, but school officials said that sending children to the powerless schools was preferable to sending them home.

Reaction to the closures was varied. Some students, like 8-year-old Malcolm Hall, were sad to see the school day cut short.

"I like school," said the second-grader. "It's important to me."

In Carroll County, the storm knocked out power and closed roads.

Sams Creek Road, south of Wakefield Valley near Westminster, was closed briefly yesterday after tree limbs were ripped down by strong winds, according to Maryland State Police. Fire officials in Carroll responded to 16 burning utility poles or electrical wires during the height of the storm, between 11: 30 p.m. and 1 a.m.

Residents of Carroll Lutheran Village, a retirement community in Wakefield Valley, were without electric service from midnight until 3 p.m. yesterday, said Roy Chiavacci, director of facilities.

"I have lived on the hill across the valley from Carroll Lutheran Village for about 20 years and I've never seen a storm here with such intensity," Chiavacci said.

Three electric generators were used to supply limited power to the health care center and two apartment buildings, he said.

More than 100 BGE crews were dispatched yesterday to repair power lines throughout the area.

BGE also opened dry ice distribution centers yesterday at the Reisterstown Shopping Center and at the Ruhl Armory in Towson, Brown said.

The storm also threw trees onto the Mass Transit Administration's light rail tracks in Baltimore County, disrupting train service yesterday morning.

"About five trees went down on the line," said Frank Fulton, an MTA spokesman. "It started in Ruxton and went north."

The MTA sent an inspection train immediately after the storm early yesterday morning, and discovered gates down on the line, as well as blockages by trees. Service was interrupted until about 11: 30 a.m. yesterday, Fulton said, and the MTA provided bus service for light rail passengers.

Baltimore County police said that the storm caused scattered outages and knocked out traffic signals. But the storm hit so early in the morning that little traffic was disrupted.

Pub Date: 6/02/98

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