Irene aftermath: fallen trees, downed power lines, delay to start of school year

August 28, 2011|By David Greisman

Tens of thousands have been left without power in Howard County in the wake of Hurricane Irene's night-long battering of torrential rain and strong winds.

The widespread power outage led school officials to decide Sunday evening to close schools on opening day, Monday, Aug. 29.

Downed trees and wires have been reported in several spots, including on Freetown Road in Columbia, at Ten Oaks Road and Linden Church Road in Clarksville, at Washington Boulevard and Gorman Road in North Laurel, and on Florence Road inMount Airy.

A tree fell on a historic home shortly before 5 a.m. on Lawyers Hill Road in Elkridge, according to county government spokeswoman Kathy Sloan-Beard. Two adults were rescued, she said.

There have not been any reports of roads being closed due to flooding, according to Elizabeth Schroen, spokeswoman for the Howard County Police Department.

Traffic lights are out at numerous intersections. Some have police officers directing traffic; others should be treated as four-way stops, she said.

"We continue to ask people to stay home," Schroen said. "Don't drive on the roads until emergency personnel have an opportunity to clear them and make them safe. There's a lot of debris on the road, trees and wires down that make them hazardous.

Flooding wasn't a factor and roads are largely clear, but Howard County Executive Ken Ulman says there is still plenty of work to be done cleaning up from Hurricane Irene and assisting those still without power.

"We need to prepare for this to be a multi-day event when it comes to power," Ulman said in an interview Sunday afternoon with the Howard County Times. "We hope folks have their power turned on as soon as possible, but we need to prepare as a community for those who have shelter needs and food and water needs."

More than a quarter of BGE customers in Howard County - 32,840 out of a total of nearly 121,000 customers - were without power as of early Sunday afternoon, according to the utility company's website. Another 6,387 customers have had their power restored.

That, as well as downed trees, broken limbs and scattered leaves, is largely what Irene left in her aftermath since arriving in the region Saturday and departing Sunday. Only isolated cases of flooding have been reported, instances where residents' basement pumps were not working, Ulman said.

The eastern part of the county got a little more than four inches of rain, and it takes six to eight inches before the low-lying areas become flooded and the rivers begin to overflow, he said.

"Roads are pretty good," Ulman said. "We still have between 15 and 20 roads that are closed. We're opening them up as fast as we can. Our biggest challenge is so many of the trees are intertwined with power lines. In that case, we have to wait for BGE."

No major injuries have been reported, he said, despite a handful of cases of trees crashing into homes.

"We can deal with inconveniences," Ulman said. "It's the serious injuries and deaths that we focus on, and then we work backwards. We're feeling very good, though we know there's going to be a lot of inconvenience."

County buildings, including library branches and parks will reopen Monday, according to a county news release, and services such as trash and recycling pickups and Howard Transit will resume.

The county public school system is expected to decide Sunday whether the first day of classes will start Monday as originally scheduled.

Debris from the storm can be dropped off at three county locations: the Howard County Landfill on Marriottsville Road; Rockburn Park (Montgomery Road entrance), which is open Sunday until 7 p.m. and will be open Monday through Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Shooley Mill Park at 12795 Hall Shop Road in Clarksville, open Sunday until 7 p.m. and will be open Monday through Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Residents can also cut debris into four-foot pieces and put it out on yard waste day, which is the same day that recyclables are picked up, Ulman said.

Though Howard County avoided the brunt of the hurricane, Ulman cautioned drivers to slow down.

"There's still a lot of dangerous situations out there," he said.

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