Power outages continue to disrupt 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.

In northern Delaware, authorities were searching for two men whose last known communication was a text message indicating they were running outside during the hurricane.

Utilities across the region reported that half a million people remained without power, with outages spread across northern Virginia, central and southern Maryland, Delaware and the Delmarva Peninsula. Baltimore Gas & Electric customers in Baltimore and surrounding counties were the hardest hit, with about 300,000 outages, and BGE warned customers that some could expect to remain in the dark until Saturday.

Gov. Martin O’Malley said he won’t be happy until electricity is fully restored to all of the 472,000 homes and businesses statewide that lacked power at midday Monday, about 36 hours after the peak of the hurricane.

“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.”

Police in New Castle County, Del., organized a search team to look for Christopher Valentine of Hockessin, Del., and Jean Baptista of Clark, N.J. Police said the two men, both 25, left a residence on foot just before midnight Saturday, as the heart of the storm was over Delaware. They texted a friend shortly after midnight from a location near Hoopes Reservoir, several miles east of Hockessin, indicating that they were running through the hurricane.

Valentine’s mother reported him missing Sunday afternoon. Nationwide, the death toll from the storm stood at 35, including an elderly woman in Queen Anne’s County, Md., and 15-year-old Katherine Morales Cruz of Manassas Park, Va., who died in an automobile accident in North Carolina.

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 expected to have all power fully restored by 6 p.m. Thursday. 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, Md.

Just outside Washington, in Takoma Park, Md., 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.”

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

Diana Vidutis got an estimate Monday that power would not be restored to her Takoma Park home 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.”

Several large school districts in Maryland, including Prince George’s and Charles counties, closed all schools Monday due to widespread outages. Montgomery County, the nation’s 16th largest school system, went ahead with its first day of classes, with the exception of seven schools that had no power.

Lily Forest was surprised when she heard that her daughter Fiona’s elementary school — Bradley Hills in Bethesda, Md. — was closed, because the neighborhood did not suffer extensive outages.

“After the earthquake and the hurricane, we thought we would finally be back to normal,” she said as she and her daughter walked their dog outside the school. “This is just one more hiccup.”

On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, which was hardest hit by the hurricane, 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.

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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