250,000 Md. homes remain darkened

Utility crews work double shifts to restore power

Sewage floods Jones Falls

Calls pour into BGE

dry ice runs out

September 18, 1999|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

A quarter-million Maryland homes remained without power in the wake of Hurricane Floyd yesterday, with residents jamming phone lines for help and scurrying for scarce dry ice to preserve refrigerators full of rapidly spoiling food.

Adding to the chaos of the storm's aftermath was what utility officials called a freak occurrence: the loss of power to a major Baltimore waste treatment plant, causing a damaged pump to spew millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Jones Falls -- bound for the Inner Harbor.

The sewage has been spilling since Thursday afternoon from a pumping station in the Hampden area, said city Department of Public Works Spokesman Robert Murrow.

"It's a one-in-a-hundred-year chance that both the primary and back-up systems would lose power," he said. "We've been working around the clock to fix the problem."

Though Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials said they were making progress in tackling their worst storm in several decades, 207,360 of their 1.1 million customers still lacked electricity as of 9 o'clock last night.

Statewide, almost 250,000 homes had no power as of late yesterday, with Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties the hardest hit.

As the utility's crews worked, residents from Crownsville to Pikesville fumed over meals gone bad. Stymied by a shortage of dry ice around the East Coast, they vied for it at the few commercial companies that had any to sell.

Even those with electricity lacked many of their normal connections to the outside world.

TCI Communications, the cable system for Baltimore, was off the air much of yesterday. Baltimore public radio station WJHU-FM (88.1) was silent. Computer problems left 1,000 people without Internet connections in Harford and Cecil counties.

In response to the power outages and other storm-related problems, Gov. Parris N. Glendening issued a directive yesterday afternoon allowing state agencies to set aside rules that would ordinarily restrict work crews from logging extended overtime hours.

The directive paves the way for hundreds of utility workers, public works crews, debris-hauling truck drivers and others to work double shifts in the storm cleanup.

BGE had more than 1,000 workers in the field yesterday, and outside crews were expected from as far away as Illinois.

"This has affected our entire system, unlike the January ice storm," said Stephen Wood, BGE vice president of electrical transmissions.

The timing of the storm posed a particular problem for Orthodox Jews who celebrate Yom Kippur beginning at sundown tomorrow and usually cook food for today's Sabbath and for the Monday holiday in advance.

Power outages forced many to reschedule or relocate their holiday preparations.

Shoshana Addi, a Baltimore mother of six, was baking her braided loaf of challah, an egg-rich white bread, in a friend's kitchen.

"We'll make it just as good," she said cheerfully. "And we'll light plenty of candles for dinner."

Byron Berman of Northwest Baltimore planned on cooking his Sabbath roast chicken on a gas grill in the back yard. Monday's holiday feast: cold cuts and a big batch of tuna salad, kept cold on dry ice.

The traditional Sabbath lights would be supplemented by extra candle power -- "in the living room, in the bathroom, everywhere," Berman said with a chuckle and a shrug.

Compounding the problems was a shortage of dry ice, normally a stock item to help residents save food without electricity, around the East Coast, utility officials and ice company employees said.

Berman, 52, was one of the last in a long line for dry ice at Capital Carbonic Corp. on Caton Avenue in Southwest Baltimore, which ran out of the precious commodity shortly after noon yesterday.

On a normal day, the company gets 10 to 30 walk-in customers, said secretary Laura Dilley, 34, of Brooklyn. More than 500 powerless people showed up pleading for ice yesterday.

BGE customer service workers opened up a dry ice giveaway site at 1 p.m. yesterday, and even though the Eastpoint Mall location wasn't publicized on TV and radio until 1: 30 p.m., 50 cars waited in line when the giveaway began. The company had 58,000 pounds of ice to give away in 14- to 15-pound bags -- enough for fewer than 4,000 customers.

"We've ordered ice from companies in Ohio, West Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and as far away as Iowa," said Raymond L. Wenderlich, BGE's manager of customer care. "But we aren't sure when it's going to get here, and as far as we're concerned, we'll believe it when we see it."

Managers at a Mars Supermarket in the Woodbridge Shopping Center in Edgewood gave away 1,500 pounds of dry ice when the power came back on yesterday morning. The supply lasted two hours.

"It was just word of mouth," said grocery manager Bill Welch. "It's like someone in the desert needing water. People were calling up, screaming and yelling."

They also were calling BGE in record numbers -- and often not even getting an automated answer.

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