Marylanders grow irritated at continuing power outages from Irene

Rawlings-Blake among those questioning BGE's performance while O'Malley urges patience

August 30, 2011|By Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

More than 285,825 Maryland households and businesses remained without power Tuesday morning in the wake of Hurricane Irene, prompting residents and Baltimore's mayor to question the pace of restoration efforts and the governor and utility executives to plead for patience.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. said Monday that some customers may not have power until late Friday with scattered outages lingering into Saturday.

The power outages and transportation snarls continued to have wide-ranging impacts across Maryland after Saturday night's storm. Many Baltimore-area schools closed and will remain closed on Tuesday. Major intersections lacked functioning traffic lights, and some roads have been blocked by fallen trees. Storm damage also slowed transit service on Monday with the possibility of continued problems on Tuesday.

But after two days of clear skies after Hurricane Irene sideswiped the state, frustration set in. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake criticized BGE on Monday, saying of the company's performance: "There are opportunities for improvement."

About 33,700 city residents remained without power about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. She said she aired her concerns Monday during a meeting with BGE President Kenneth W. DeFontes Jr.

"The needs of Baltimore City are different than those of other jurisdictions, and I wanted to make sure they understood that and that they heard it from me," Rawlings-Blake said during a meeting with The Baltimore Sun's editorial board. "If we don't get it right in expressing that and if they don't get it right in deployment, things could get very bad very quickly."

Her concerns were echoed by residents across the state. In Wardour, a badly damaged section of Annapolis, residents expressed exasperation amid dozens of fallen trees and the hum of generators.

"It's very frustrating," said community association president Cheri Wendt-Taczak. "It seems like we are always the first to go and the last to get power back."

In Ruxton, Warren and Pattie Updike tried to make the best of the outage with a pancake breakfast cooked on a propane stove. But they were glum when BGE's prediction of a Monday restoration hadn't come true by mid-afternoon. "They say, 'We're working on it," Warren Updike said. "I understand we're one of hundreds of thousands.

But, he added, "I'm afraid we're on the bottom of their list."

His wife hung her jaw at the news that some residents might be without power until Friday. "You've got to be kidding," she said. "Ugh. This is not good at all."

"After a couple of days, it gets old quick," Warren Updike said.

At a midday news briefing in Reisterstown, Gov. Martin O'Malley asked Maryland residents to understand that Irene had inflicted a "wide swath" of damage and advised them to prepare for a long wait.

"People are going to be without electricity for a long time, days," O'Malley said. "I can tell you there are crews working around the clock. We'll stay on this."

Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Harford County and Anne Arundel County schools will be closed for a second day on Tuesday because of the widespread power outages. Howard County and Carroll County, where the damage from Irene was less severe, will open their doors for the first day of the school year on Tuesday.

The State Highway Administration said almost two dozen state roads remained blocked by trees on Monday and that traffic lights remained dark at almost 100 intersections. Police cautioned drivers to approach intersections cautiously and to flash their headlights to indicate yields at night.

Downed trees also caused significant damage to the overhead power system on the north end of the Light Rail, frustrating commuters and those headed to the State Fair, and forcing passengers to continue to ride buses to stops between North Avenue andHunt Valley.

Maryland Transit Administration spokesman Terry Owens said service might not resume until Tuesday but "we have people working around the clock to get the system back on line."

About a dozen people waited for the stand-in bus at North Avenue on Monday afternoon, and some had lost patience after an hour. Dave Gren had decided to take a "short cut" on public transportation to the Maryland State Fair in Timonium with his 10-year-old granddaughter Amirah.

"This might be the last time I take light rail," he said. "I left my car in Cherry Hill an hour ago, and if I had driven, I would be at the fairgrounds now. Grandpa made a mistake."

Jean Quickly, a state worker who rides the light rail home to Timonium daily, said she doesn't know why officials haven't learned from past storms and other problems.

"This happens quite frequently," said Quickly, who was already an hour and a half into a commute that normally take 30 minutes. "They always have a problem.… I don't know why they aren't better prepared."

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