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435,000 customers lack power in Mid-Atlantic

WASHINGTON — For many in the Mid-Atlantic region, Hurricane Irene caused only minor inconveniences. But hundreds of thousands of others remained without power Monday, including some who could wait days for their electricity to return. And for a few, the storm brought tragedy.

Darrell Tarte, a property estimator with Erie Insurance, surveys damage from a tree at a home in Port Republic after Hurricane Irene on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

In northern Delaware, authorities found the bodies of two men who had texted to friends that they were running through the hurricane at the height of the storm.

Utilities across the region reported that 435,000 customers remained without power Monday night, two days after the hurricane. The outages were concentrated largely in Baltimore and surrounding counties, with more than 316,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric customers still in the dark. BGE said it could take until Saturday to fully restore power.

Other outages were spread across southern Maryland, northern Virginia, Delaware and the Delmarva Peninsula. As of 9 p.m. Monday, 378,000 were without power in Maryland.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said he won’t be happy until electricity is fully restored statewide.

“I think none of us are satisfied and won’t be satisfied until everybody gets turned back on,” O’Malley said during a briefing at the state’s emergency operations center in Reisterstown, north of Baltimore. “I can tell you that there are crews who are working around the clock, and we’re going to stay on this until everyone is restored.”

O’Malley said late Monday that Maryland’s emergency declaration approved by President Obama has been amended and approved to include all counties affected, including Harford, Howard, Anne Arundel and Frederick.

He said 28 state roads remained closed Monday night because of water, debris or low-hanging wires. One shelter in the state, in Calvert County, was still open.

A search team in New Castle County, Del., found the bodies of Christopher Valentine of Hockessin, Del., and Jean Baptista of Clark, N.J., Monday afternoon. Police said the two men, both 25, left a friend’s home on foot just before midnight Saturday, as the heart of the storm was crossing Delaware. They texted a friend shortly after midnight that they were running through the hurricane.

Democratic Gov. Jack Markell offered his condolences to the men’s families and friends.

“While we had certainly prayed that our state would get through Hurricane Irene without the loss of life, we unfortunately now know that that’s not the case,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The storm also claimed mid-Atlantic residents Anne Bell of Queen Anne’s County and 15-year-old Katherine Morales Cruz of Manassas Park, Va., who died in an automobile accident in North Carolina.

Focused on public safety

BGE said in a statement that its focus Monday was on ensuring public safety, which would include getting traffic lights back in operation, and restoring power to critical customers such as 911 centers, hospitals and water treatment plants.

Linda Foy, a spokeswoman for the utility, said BGE has gotten reports of 5,000 downed wires and installed 400 new utility poles.

Officials with Pepco, the utility serving the District of Columbia and its suburbs as well as parts of Delaware, said they expect to have power fully restored by Thursday evening. Safety concerns, especially involving downed power lines, required crews to work at a deliberate pace, Pepco Holdings Inc. Chairman Joe Rigby said at a news conference in Salisbury.

Just outside Washington, in Takoma Park, the traffic lights were dark as soon as drivers crossed into Maryland, and power lines hanging low enough to touch the tops of cars were marked off by yellow caution tape.

Ivan Tokic, 55, a contractor, said he has been grilling food from his refrigerator, rather than throwing it away, and has invited friends and family over to eat.

“I just cooked everything up,” he said. “Now the refrigerator is nice and empty.”

‘We can make it’

Tokic has also been using a $700 gas generator to power much of his house and a neighbor’s home.

Diana Vidutis was told Monday that power at her Takoma Park home may not come on until Thursday. But she’s not waiting around. On Monday afternoon, she was preparing to salvage what was left of a planned vacation in Bethany Beach, Del.

While she’s gone, she’s expecting to host four visitors from Lithuania at her home. She planned to leave them candles, instructions and warm beer, and said she was thankful that her landline phone still works.

“Between that and a gas stove, we can make it,” Vidutis said as she cleared branches and debris from her yard.

In much of the nation’s capital, there was little evidence that a Category 1 hurricane had struck less than 48 hours earlier. Traffic flowed smoothly on a sunny, mild Monday morning, and Metro reported a slight drop in ridership on its subways. Some people said they were altering their commutes because their children were home from school.

The storm caused bigger problems for people trying to travel out of the region.

At Washington’s Union Station, Columbia University junior Alejandra Jimenez was forced to book a $450 last-minute plane ticket to New York when she arrived at the train station to find out that her $111 departure had been canceled. Jimenez, who had spent the summer in Washington on an internship, was eager to get to New York for the first day of practice for her college rugby team.

Her mother, Karen Jimenez, said they were disappointed by Amtrak’s customer service. She said they only learned of the canceled trip when they arrived at the station.

“We tried endlessly to talk to someone” on Amtrak’s customer service line, Karen Jimenez said. “It’s a minor inconvenience compared to what a lot of people are going through, but it sure is a pain in the neck.”

Crops, poultry affected

On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, corn crops likely suffered significant wind damage, said Patricia Langenfelder, president of the Maryland Farm Bureau. She said drought conditions before the hurricane also took their toll.

“We were not going to have a great corn crop anyway,” she said.

In Delaware, 16,000 chickens died when a Kent County poultry house was flooded during the storm, Markell said.

At Assateague Island National Seashore south of Ocean City, storm waves washed over the dunes, burying a parking lot. Boardwalk and restroom facilities were damaged, and some sites on the seashore’s campground were flooded. The seashore was closed Monday and was expected to reopen Tuesday on a limited basis.

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