- The Washington Times - Monday, August 29, 2011

The D.C. region returned to relative calm Monday after an “extraordinary week” in which a rare earthquake damaged two national icons, then Hurricane Irene arrived and knocked out power to roughly 1 million customers.

The region was largely spared from the hurricane’s wrath that caused at least 38 deaths in 11 states and historic flooding as far north as Vermont. Yet crews across Maryland, Virginia and the District worked around the clock to clear downed trees, repair fallen power lines and restore power to homes, schools, hospitals and other customers.

In Maryland, about 430,000 residences and businesses remained without power as of 5 p.m., Gov. Martin O'Malley said Monday. About 822,000 customers lost power at the height of the storm, which pelted the state with heavy rain and winds from Saturday night to early Sunday morning.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and members of the state’s congressional delegation took an aerial tour Monday to assess the damage in Hampton Roads.

Mr. McDonnell, who surveyed the Richmond area Sunday, said power had been restored to 600,000 customers and that nearly all restorations would be completed by Friday. He estimated that the storm, which caused four deaths in Virginia, had knocked out power to 1.1 million customers — or 2.5 million people.

In the District, electricity provider Pepco reported about 7,000 customers without power as of 5 p.m. Monday, primarily in Northeast, as the city continued to recover from an unusually busy week in late summer.

“Somebody got the calendar wrong,” said Mayor Vincent C. Gray, alluding to the earthquake, hurricane, and canceled plans for the dedicate Sunday of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. “I think this was the most eventful week in the history of the city.”

The Washington Monument and the Washington National Cathedral were damaged in the 5.8-magnitude earthquake Tuesday.

D.C. Public Schools reported minor damage from flooding, leaks and downed trees at some of its facilities from Irene’s heavy rains and winds. Fourteen schools lost power, forcing them to close Monday.

They all will reopen today. However, two schools — the Oyster Building of Oyster-Adams Bilingual School in Ward 3 and Thomas Elementary in Ward 7 were still without electricity Monday afternoon so the city has identified alternative school sites for today in case power was not restored overnight.

DCPS said parents should still bring their children to both schools. Students will be taken to an alternate site if necessary.

“With earthquakes and hurricanes, anything can happen,” schools spokesman Frederick Lewis said. “This has been an extraordinary week that required an extraordinary effort from everyone involved in the DCPS community.”

Officials said student safety remains their primary concern.

Morning traffic in the District moved smoothly Monday, despite 29 non-functioning traffic signals that required mobile stop signs or personnel to direct traffic, said John Lisle, a spokeman for the District Department of Transportation.

The agency received nearly 1,600 tree-related reports and worked its way through 487 work orders to remove debris and branches, prioritizing trees and other materials that fell on homes, wires or roadways, Mr. Lisle said.

“I think we could be working through the week to get all the debris cleaned up,” he said, noting the agency hopes to clear the way for the extended Labor Day weekend.

In Maryland, utility providers had restored power to more than 40 percent of customers who lost electricity during Hurricane Irene, state officials said Monday afternoon.

Mr. O'Malley praised utility companies for working “around the clock” to restore power, but said residents would not be satisfied until power is fully restored, which he said could take “several” more days.

Pepco, the provider for the District and much of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, reported shortly before 1 p.m. Monday that about 170,000 of its initial 220,000 outages have been restored.

Mr. O'Malley said Baltimore Gas and Electric still has about 354,000 outages — about three-quarters of the state’s outages.

“I think none of us won’t be satisfied until everybody gets back turned on,” Mr. O'Malley said, adding that the outages vastly exceeded those seen after the blizzards of 2010, when only 333,000 customers lost power.

The governor said the state essentially survived the hurricane, and he praised residents for heeding safety warnings, including notices to evacuate and stay indoors.

“Were very proud of the people in our state,” Mr. O'Malley, Democrat, said on WTOP-FM radio. “Overall we came through this very well. … But weve just got to keep working.”

The governor said a major concern was making sure hospitals and other health-care facilities have power.

Washington Adventist Hospital, in Takoma Park, Md., was operating on generators from 1:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday but power has since been restored.

The state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygienes said no hospitals had to close as a result of Irene, which arrived as a Category I hurricane.

In hard-hit Prince George’s, schools were closed Monday. Officials said those with power will open on time Tuesday, though 10 remained dark and the decision about their openings was pending.

School systems remain closed in equally hard-hit Calvert and St. Mary’s counties.

In Virginia, Mr. McDonnell was joined on his tour by Reps. Scott Rigell, Randy Forbes, Robert J. Wittman all Republicans and Rep. Bobby Scott, a Democrat.

“The big challenge now is to do all the damage assessments,” said Mr. McDonnell, a Republican. “We’re still not out of the woods. … We still caution residents that are engaged in clean-up to look for downed power lines.”

All Dominion Virginia Power customers in Northern Virginia are supposed to have their power restored by Tuesday.

Mr. Scott said that as Congress crafts a budget in the coming weeks, it would be important that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was properly funded.

The governor also urged residents to consider donating to the Virginia Emergency Disaster Relief Fund, which was created after tornadoes struck the state in April and received about $1.1 million of private donations in August. The fund also got $600,000 in seed money from the state and $111,500 in donations collected at Virginia liquor stores by the state’s Department of Alcohol Beverage Control.

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