- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene knocked out power this weekend to nearly 500,000 customers in the region, but the area escaped much heavier damage seen in central Virginia and Southern Maryland.

Utilities crews throughout the District, Maryland and Virginia worked Sunday to repair power lines, remove fallen trees and assess damage created by the weekend storm - a process officials said will continue throughout the week and might not reach some residents for several more days.

“We’re not issuing estimated restoration times until we figure out exactly what the damage is,” Pepco spokesman Bob Hainey said Sunday afternoon. “Customers like things to move along, so we will move along rapidly, but do it as safely as possible.”

Officials expected the storm to bring widespread power outages, and power companies spent much of last week planning for the stormy weekend, calling in hundreds of outside contractors and extra personnel from out-of-town utility providers.

Pepco, which provides power to the District and much of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, reported that 220,000 of its customers lost power during the storm Saturday and early Sunday morning. Roughly 161,000 customers were still without power early Sunday evening, including 83,379 in Prince George’s, 47,300 in Montgomery and 30,490 in the District.

Mr. Hainey declined to say when remaining customers would have power restored. He said such estimates would be available after crews finished assessing damage Monday morning.

Mr. Hainey would not say whether the numbers exceeded forecasts, but they pale in comparison to the estimated 572,000 customers who lost power during Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

“We didn’t know what to expect because every storm is different,” he said, adding that about 2,500 employees are working on restoration efforts.

While just a quarter-million customers had outages in the District, its Maryland suburbs and Northern Virginia, more than 1.8 million total customers lost power in Maryland and Virginia, with the heaviest outages in central Virginia and Southern Maryland.

More than 3 million customers in the two states lost power during Isabel in 2003.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on Sunday reported more than 1 million outages in the state, while Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said more than 800,000 lost power in his state. Many of the outages came in coastal areas where storm winds knocked down trees, damaging power lines and blocking roads.

More than 1 million of Dominion Virginia Power’s customers lost power, with the number trimmed down to about 780,000 by Sunday afternoon, according to the company.

Dominion officials expect to complete a damage assessment and begin projecting restoration times by noon Monday.

The Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, which serves about 150,000 customers in Calvert, Charles, St. Mary’s and Prince George’s counties, reported more than 86,000 outages as of Sunday afternoon.

The damage was felt especially bad in St. Mary’s County, where flooding and downed trees blocked many roads.

SMECO officials said company engineers are working with state police to assess the total damage caused by broken utility poles and trees that have fallen or come into contact with power lines.