Residents remain cool after ice storm freezes power

Thousands still lack electricity

flying chunks of ice pose traffic danger

February 16, 2007|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

Lack of electricity in an all-electric house was not going to send Alma Henson-Darden into a tizzy.

Enduring the second full day of no power at her home in the Brown's Woods enclave outside Annapolis, she was cooking on her wood-and-coal stove while her teen granddaughter played on the computer. They'd already taken hot baths. The house was toasty.

Her home was among thousands still dark in Anne Arundel County, the area hardest hit as ice and wind from the Valentine's Day storm downed power lines and blew out transformers.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. said about 153,000 customers in the region lost power because of the storm - the number without service peaked at 94,800 about 2 p.m. Wednesday. By yesterday evening, the company said, power had been restored to more than 111,000 customers - but "scattered outages" could extend into tomorrow.

"Approximately 1,000 BGE employees and nearly 600 out-of-state utility personnel are currently involved in service restoration activities with additional mutual assistance personnel scheduled to arrive throughout the evening," according to a BGE press release, which noted that while repairs are being made, new outages are being reported.

With subfreezing temperatures all day, people across the Baltimore-Washington area were still chipping ice from sidewalks and cars - and dodging sheets of ice flying off vehicles whose drivers did not take the effort.

State Police at the Golden Ring Barracks said there were reports of at least two dozen accidents within a two-hour period yesterday caused by large chunks of ice blowing off vehicles and hitting others, shattering some windshields. But no serious injuries resulted, police said.

Sgt. Tracy Hart said the reports between 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. included incidents on Interstate 95, Interstate 70, the Baltimore Beltway and Route 702 in Essex. He said a few motorists and passengers were hit by shards of glass, and that some drivers were involved in collisions after being startled by ice impacts. Many of the larger pieces of ice flew off the tops of tractor-trailers, he added.

Anne Arundel's school system announced that schools will remain closed today, but athletic events scheduled for today and tomorrow are still on. Sixteen schools were still without power yesterday, said spokesman Bob Mosier.

At midday yesterday, county officials moved shelter operations out of Annapolis High School to the South County Senior Center in Edgewater - a facility better suited to the mostly elderly people needing a place to stay until power returns to their homes, said county spokeswoman Rhonda Wardlow.

About 20 people spent Wednesday night at the high school, and a smaller number moved into the senior center awaiting word on their homes yesterday. They chatted, napped and relaxed in a large room decorated with hearts and bear-hug decals for Valentine's Day.

Two rows of cots awaited them, set up by Darrell Hicks, who recently became homeless and was grateful for being taken in Wednesday after being told the county had run out of shelter space for the homeless.

"I said anything you need me to do, you give me a holler and I am willing to do it," said Hicks, 48.

The county Fire Department reported responding to more than 200 calls for downed wires since Wednesday, and yesterday rescued a woman - and then two of their own - who were stuck on an icy hill in Laurel.

Firefighters responding to a 1:30 p.m. call that a woman and her dog had fallen through the icy Patuxent River in the Russett community found that both were dry, but unable to climb up the slick hill at the water's edge, said Lt. Alex Makris, a fire department spokesman. Two firefighters sent to aid her also got stuck at the base of the incline. All three were pulled to safety, Makris said.

For Henson-Darden, dealing with the storm was just a matter of readiness.

"I am an old-fashioned type person," the retired nurse said. "You always prepare for something."

With batteries by the dozen, a flashlight for each room, plenty of food, an apple-scented candle for ambience and a mountain of wood for her stove, Henson-Darden was not hungry or bored in the dark.

"I was cooking breakfast at 5 o'clock this morning," she said, noting that her daughter left her home in Arnold for lack of heat and came to stay with her.

"I had put some batteries in the radio, and we were listening to the music and talking," she said. Sausage, bacon and bagels were on the menu. She also occasionally turned on a small battery-powered television.

More than 10 years ago, Henson-Darden recalled, she was among many who pursued elusive batteries in a snowstorm.

"I made myself a promise from then on I would have them, and I would have a lot," she said. And although she had used at least 20 by yesterday afternoon, she had at least another seven packages of assorted sizes on hand.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Richard Irwin contributed to this article.

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