BGE toiling to fix lines

11,600 customers await power in wake of Saturday storms

Utility offers free dry ice

Lightning hits roof of Lutheran church on Liberty Road

May 15, 2000|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. crews worked into last night trying to restore power to 11,600 remaining customers who spent Mother's Day without electricity after Saturday night's line of violent storms.

Thirty support teams arrived from utilities in distant parts of the state to help, and BGE scrambled to dole out thousands of pounds of free dry ice to customers.

The goal was to have power restored to everyone by midnight, but officials said they expected a few customers would be without electricity this morning. "It's slow going because it's one at a time," said Jessica Atwood, a BGE spokeswoman.

As crews pushed forward with the painstaking work yesterday morning, a Baltimore County congregation arrived to find its church burned by fire caused by lightning.

Members of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Woodlawn held services in the sunshine a few feet from their Liberty Road church and its charred roof.

The Rev. Nicholas Brie, interim pastor of the 350-member church, said he was there and felt lightning strike the church about 8 p.m. Saturday, but didn't see any damage after he circled the building.

"I felt the loud `click' and you can feel the electricity," Brie said.

Brie was meeting with about 25 people who were holding an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in the basement of the church when firefighters arrived an hour later, he said. A passer-by saw smoke rising from the top of the church, Brie said.

About nine Baltimore City and Baltimore County fire companies responded, containing the damage to the roof and trying to save as much equipment as possible -- including covering choir books with red tarp.

"They were so respectful of our church," he said.

Gusts and twisters

Also Saturday, several twisters were reported, including sightings in Baltimore City and Harford County. In Frederick County, an unidentified Mount Airy woman remained in stable condition yesterday at Frederick Memorial Hospital after she was struck by lightning on the side of a road Saturday afternoon.

National Weather Service observers at Andrews Air Force Base reported wind gusts from 61 mph to 115 mph about 7: 30 p.m. Saturday, with reports of a possible funnel cloud.

Police in Howard and Baltimore counties said dispatchers fielded dozens of calls reporting fallen trees and downed power lines, but neither agency reported serious injuries or accidents.

"It may have just been very strong winds," said Jim Wiesmueller, a meteorologist at the weather service's office in Sterling, Va. "There was torrential rain at the same time. We'll have to take a look at the damage pattern [today] and get a better idea then."

Saturday's storms initially knocked out power to about 120,000 of BGE's 1.1 million commercial and residential customers, officials said. Nearly half of the power failures were in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

Restoring electricity was slowed because downed tree limbs often damaged wires leading directly to homes rather than to main lines, BGE officials said. When main power lines are affected, a single reconnection can restore power to thousands of homes.

BGE gave away free dry ice at five locations in Baltimore City, and Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties. In two hours, customers had picked up 41,000 pounds.

Giving thanks

In Woodlawn yesterday, about 35 congregation members began arriving at St. Paul's for the 8: 15 a.m. service, despite broadcast reports that the church would be closed for the day, Brie said. Sixty other members joined him for the 11 a.m. service near a sign that read: "Do you need a new look? Come in for a faith lift."

"We're very thankful that there was not the damage that there could have been," said member Miriam Pritt of Westminster. "It could have been so much worse."

Before yesterday's services, Brie checked the church's guest registry to find an unexpected -- though much welcomed -- entry:

"Baltimore County Fire Department, 5/13."

Sun staff writer Marcia Myers and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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