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Lingering power outages leave businesses limping

Drew Greenblatt, president, Marlin Steel Wire Products

Drew Greenblatt’s robots took the day off Monday.

The machines sat idle in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene as the manufacturing floor of Marlin Steel Wire Products was left without electricity, and Greenblatt without an idea of when it would be back.

Businesses struggled to return to work Monday as power outages lingered in housing developments and industrial parks across the region and officials warned of a lengthy recovery ahead for Maryland.

For many, the cloudy timetable for restoring power was as bad, if not worse, than the outage itself.

“I can’t sit here and say ‘Everything is fine. We’re going to ship tomorrow,’” said Greenblatt, Marlin’s president.

He said the company was supposed to ship $100,000 worth of steel baskets and sheet metal parts for automotive, aerospace, defense and pharmaceutical customers on Monday. Without power, the parts sat unfinished on the factory floor.

The company grew 41 percent in the first half of the year, according to Greenblatt, and Marlin spent $1 million on the robots last year as the company outpaced the anemic economic recovery.

“Those things are booked. They need to be running. They can’t be sitting here gathering dust,” Greenblatt said. “We compete with China, we compete with Mexico, we compete with Germany, we compete with Canada, and the only thing that matters is on-time shipment and quality. If you can’t ship on time, clients have very little patience.”

Scott Macdonald, CEO of nearby Maryland Thermoform, spent the early afternoon far from his plastics manufacturing plant in southwest Baltimore. He and his son were enjoying smoothies in the Inner Harbor while his company also sat powerless.

“We’re being told it’s supposed to come on midnight [Tuesday], but come on,” said Macdonald. “The whole southwest grid looks like it’s out.”

As of 5 p.m. Monday, 324,437 Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. customers were without power. The utility estimated the majority of customers would see their lights come back on by Friday, with a few, isolated outages fixed by Saturday.

“We’re providing our customers with the best available information we have. That does evolve as more information comes into us about the type of work, as crews get to the scene,” said Linda Foy, a BGE spokeswoman “The information that we have may differ from what ultimately occurs, and we understand that can be frustrating for our customers.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley said he expects “more definitive” predictions from power companies on how long customers will be in the dark.

“I think none of us are satisfied and won’t be satisfied until everyone gets turned back on,” he said during a news conference at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Reisterstown.

BGE’s parent company, Constellation Energy Group, was also dealing with damage in Southern Maryland at its Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant.

A piece of metal siding, torn from a building by a wind gust, struck a transformer connected to Unit 1, causing the reactor to shut down. A Constellation spokesman said plant employees are inspecting the transformer, but could not give a timetable for the reactor to be turned back on.

The top four floors of six-story Courthouse East in Baltimore were closed due to electrical problems Monday, grinding to a halt civil and legal proceedings in one of the two circuit courthouses.

Judge W. Michel Pierson said elevators were out of service throughout the building, and everything above the second floor had only limited lighting. He said the courthouse was still carrying on criminal docket calls, but a decision was made at 10 a.m. to postpone all trials in the building and send home staff members who work above the second floor.

“Hopefully we’ll be back up tomorrow, but obviously we’re dependent upon BGE to determine whether that’s going to happen or not,” Pierson said.

The courthouse was completed in 1932, and its last major renovation was finished in 1990.

Other waterside towns and facilities reported little damage from the hurricane.

Ships calling at the Port of Baltimore left ahead of the high winds and weathered the storm in the Chesapeake Bay, according to port spokesman Richard Scher.

The Carnival Pride cruise ship returned a day early, dropping passengers off on Saturday before returning to deeper waters to ride out the storm.

Annapolis Mayor Joshua J. Cohen said the capital city received about a dozen reports of houses and garages damaged by fallen trees, but wasn’t flooded as it had been in previous hurricanes.

“The biggest concern I’m hearing right now is from businesses and residents without power,” he said. “And we’re hearing from BGE that it’s going to be three to five days.”

After forecasts predicted it would take the brunt of the storm in Maryland, Ocean City escaped with little noticeable damage, officials there said.

The storm did, however, wipe out one of the last summer weekends in the beach town.

Susan Jones, executive director of the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, said the hotel rooms would likely have been sold out, if not for Irene.

With 9,700 rooms at an average of $159 a night, the loss likely topped $3 million for hotels alone.

“That hurt,” said Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said. “Losing business starting Saturday and most of the day Sunday really did hurt. And that was unfortunate because we had a really good summer.”

Tourism officials in Delaware and Virginia urged visitors back to the beaches.

Meehan and Jones said they expect Ocean City to be flush with beachgoers over Labor Day weekend and through September after news coverage featuring reporters being battered by wind and rain were replaced with shots of the sunny and tranquil post-Irene calm on Sunday and Monday.

“They can see that everything looks like it’s back to normal in Ocean City,” said Meehan, who spent the weekend in the city’s emergency operations building. “It’s a gorgeous day today.”

Daily Record Legal Affairs writer Andy Marso contributed to this article.