Extending a cord to neighbor in need

Days after hurricane, bright ideas help folks cope without power

September 20, 1999|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

Orange and yellow electrical cords trailed across a street in Perry Hall yesterday, part of a neighborly attempt to cope with the continuing scattered power outages caused when Hurricane Floyd blew through Maryland last week.

Power was restored to the folks who live on the odd side of the 4300 block of Piney Park Road on Thursday evening, but their neighbors with even-numbered addresses are reading by candlelight. Frank Sweeney, a retired construction supervisor with a stash of 100-foot extension cords in his basement but no power, and Tom Rohrs, who lives on the odd-numbered side of the street, got together.

Rohrs offered to let Sweeney plug a cord into one of his outlets to run essentials, such as the refrigerator. Then Greg Schaum, Rohrs' neighbor, did the same for Ken Simmons, Sweeney's next-door neighbor. Next thing, power cords were running back and forth up and down the block.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials urged caution with such neighborly arrangements.

"Using extension cords over long distances could end up causing fires," said Stephen Wood, BGE's vice president for transmission and distribution. He advised customers to limit the number and size of the appliances they plug into the cords.

Yesterday, the Sweeneys were running a generator in their back yard to power their washing machine and taking in their neighbors' laundry.

"I had so many wet towels from mopping up water in the basement, I thought I could use this to run the washer," said Judy Sweeney. Then she decided to help her neighbors, she said.

Floyd knocked out power to 490,000 BGE customers. The utility is calling it the biggest such event in company history.

The Sweeneys were among almost 70,000 customers without electrical service last evening. About 60,000 got their power back yesterday. All service should be restored by tomorrow, the company said.

An outage forced Baltimore City public school officials to cancel classes today at Windsor Hills Elementary, 4001 Alto Road, which was without power last night.

BGE had 500 crews -- 1,300 people -- on the street working to restore power yesterday, said John Moraski, BGE's director of system operations. About half were from utility companies and contractors from as far as St. Louis, Indiana and Long Island.

It is the second time this year the utility asked for help. The first was during an ice storm in January, when BGE put 200 crews on the street to help restore power, spokeswoman Kathleen Nolan said.

Yesterday and Saturday, BGE employees distributed dry ice to customers in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, Howard and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City.

BGE said its employees have fielded 181,000 customer calls and distributed 333,000 pounds of dry ice at five stations -- some trucked from as far as Mississippi.

Mike Wheeler, a BGE employee helping at the Howard County distribution center at The Mall in Columbia, estimated 1,350 pounds of dry ice had been given out by late yesterday afternoon.

Floyd, with gusts up to 67 mph, dumped 10 inches of rain on parts of Central and Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore on Thursday, downing power lines and causing an estimated $7.9 million in damage to roads, bridges, sewers and public buildings.

Baltimore public works crews worked round the clock for two days to repair pumps at the Hampden sewer facility that stopped working during a power outage and allowed 24 million gallons of raw sewage to spill into the Jones Falls.

Robert Murrow, a spokesman for the Department of Public Works, said yesterday that the problem was fixed and that the spill "had a minimal impact on the Jones Falls."

TCI, Baltimore's cable television system, had its worst-ever outage during the storm, which knocked out service to about 60 percent of its customers. But by late yesterday, fewer than 1,000 TCI subscribers remained without service.

If the repairs seemed slow, city cable officials said, it's because cable technicians can't climb poles until the power and telephone companies have finished.

BGE goes in first "because their service could be life-threatening," said Cedric Crump, program compliance officer for the city's Office of Cable and Communications.

"Sometimes, when power starts coursing through those lines again, it spotlights faults here and there that you didn't see the first time," explained spokeswoman Nolan. "It's not unusual, and usually it can be fixed pretty quickly."

The lights returned on the odd side of Piney Park Road about 10 p.m. Thursday, only to go off again about 6 a.m. Friday, then came back on to stay about noon.

Ever since, extension cords have run from the outlets by Greg Schaum's driveway to houses across the street.

"It's the neighborly thing to do," he said. "Well, maybe until I get my electric bill."

Sun staff writers Amy Oakes, Frank D. Roylance and Jamal E. Watson contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 9/20/99

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