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Seven deaths tallied so far from heat, storms

Mayor, governor urge utilities to speed power restoration

July 03, 2012|By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun

BGE spokesman Robert Gould said he understands customers' frustration with the vague estimates of when power will be restored. "But the reality is, there are so many variables that are outside our control," he said. Another storm Sunday night added more than 12,000 customers the outage list.

Gould said BGE doesn't want a repeat of Hurricane Irene last year, when the utility offered "very specific estimates" and aggravated customers when it couldn't meet them.

Still, Rawlings-Blake criticized BGE for what she called an inadequate response to the storm. The city opened shelters Monday night at Baltimore Junior Academy and Dawson Family Safe Haven Center with 75 beds each for families affected by the storms.

"Right now, our restoration rate has fallen behind the state average," she said Monday. "We should be on par or above the state average. We have the state's concentration of elderly, the state's concentration of poor."

As of 8:30 p.m. Monday, power had been restored to 72 percent of BGE customers who lost it areawide, compared with 66 percent in Baltimore City.

Hank Greenberg, state director for AARP Maryland, the organization for people 50 and older, criticized the utility for providing information so vague that customers couldn't plan.

"It doesn't help to tell everyone that 'we'll have you back up seven to nine days after the storm,'" said Greenberg, who lives in Crownsville and had no power as of late Monday afternoon. "I don't think that's an adequate response. I think … the company knows [in] what order they're going to be doing restoration."

Gov. Martin O'Malley defended the utility's response but also pledged to keep urging BGE and Washington-area utility Pepco to make haste.

"I think we have to acknowledge the perception that people rightly have, that there are not as many crews out there as they saw immediately after Hurricane Irene struck," O'Malley said. "That is because we suffered a hit that was the equivalent of a hurricane impact and the power outages that a hurricane causes, and yet we did not have the four days of warning that would have allowed BGE to bring in crews from other states."

Friday's storms were part of what meteorologists call a "derecho," a Spanish word meaning "straight ahead." The storms began forming early Friday afternoon in Indiana and built intensity as they moved 600 miles to Maryland.

Lower evening temperatures and obstacles such as the Appalachian Mountains made it hard to predict whether the storms would weaken before reaching Maryland, as they often do, said Greg Carbin, warning coordination meterologist for the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

BGE officials say their crews are working overtime on power restoration. Meter readers, for instance, have been reassigned to look for safety problems such as downed power lines, they said.

"We are sparing no expense; we are sparing no effort," Gould said.

Police did not report any looting or crime spike in the power outages' wake, but some thieves have taken advantage.

Four city-owned generators were stolen from intersections where they had been set up to power high-volume traffic signals in Southwest and Northwest Baltimore, said city police Deputy Commissioner John Skinner. Police also noted reports of burglaries, including several break-ins at city schools.

Baltimore County police said Monday two generators were stolen in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 1 — one from the 200 block of Gaywood Road and the other from the 6300 block of Pinehurst Road in Rodgers Forge.

Transportation officials had warned of a treacherous Monday commute, with downed trees and wires still blocking roads and traffic signals without power. But they reported few problems on area roadways. Col. Marcus Brown, superintendent of the Maryland State Police, said there were no injuries at intersections during the morning commute, and State Highway Administration officials reported no major accidents and lighter traffic because of the holiday this week and state and federal liberal-leave policies, spokesman Dave Buck said.

"The public did a very good job with how they handled these intersections," Brown said.

At least 75 traffic signals were not operating Monday on major arteries around the state, down from about 600 signal outages at the height of the storm, Brown said.

In Baltimore County, 24 roads and intersections remained without power as of 2:30 p.m. Monday but that figure was expected to decline as utility crews continued to work to restore power, county Police Chief James W. Johnson said. Twenty roads remained closed Monday afternoon because of to downed wires, county police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said.

"So far, everyone is being cautious, patient and courteous through the dark intersections," Buck said. "People are treating those like four-way stops."

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