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Ongoing outages, dark traffic lights complicate D.C.-area commute
Maryland, D.C. and Virginia residents tried their best on Monday to return to normal life three days after a rare storm ravaged the area. But with hundreds of traffic signals still dark, neighborhood streets buried under debris, and triple-digit heat turning deadly, storm victims seemed resigned to spend a few more days sweating it out.
In an afternoon news conference, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley told reporters that six people had died in the state as a result of the storm and its aftermath. Three of the deaths were heat-related.
Mr. O'Malley said that by Monday evening he expected the level of personnel working to restore power to reach that of Maryland's response to Hurricane Irene last year.
"I have lived here for 49 years, and I have never seen a storm that hit this suddenly, with this kind of impact," Mr. O'Malley said.
The storm, a rare type called a derecho, blew a straight line of 60 mph winds from Indiana to the Mid-Atlantic region, knocking out power to more than 1 million people, destroying hundreds of trees and homes, and killing at least 17 people, including 10 in Virginia.
Along with the heat-related deaths this weekend, a man was killed Sunday night while trying to cross a dark intersection in Arlington County.
Arlington Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said that at about 9:35 p.m., a woman driving a Honda sedan westbound on Columbia Pike struck a Hispanic man as he was crossing the street at the intersection with Four Mile Run Drive. The traffic light was not working, and police said the driver, who stayed at the scene of the accident, made no attempt to slow down at the intersection. The victim had not been identified as of Monday evening.
Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer McCord said about 120 signals were without power in Northern Virginia during the Monday morning commute. The majority of them were in Fairfax County.
Generators powered some traffic signals, while some intersections had four-way stop signs.
"The main issue still ongoing is the secondary roads in the neighborhood streets," Ms. McCord said. "The lights are out; trees are down blocking roadways."
To ease the strain from nonfunctioning traffic signals, the Interstate 66 high-occupancy vehicle restriction was lifted Monday inside VDOT will lift the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) requirement of two or more passengers on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway during the a.m. (eastbound) and p.m. (westbound) rush hours tomorrow, July 3. Regular HOV restrictions will remain in effect on I-66 outside the Beltway and on I-95/395. It has also been lifted for Tuesday in both eastbound and westbound directions.
As of 6 p.m. Monday, Pepco reported about 116,000 outages out of 310,000 customers in Montgomery County. The utility also reported 47,000 without power out of the 226,000 customers In Prince George's County. About 44,000 of Pepco's 260,000 customers in the District were still without power.
The tentative date for full restoration is July 6, but a spokeswoman for Pepco said new figures would be released Wednesday night.
Dominion Virginia Power reported about 133,000 outages in Northern Virginia, with about 200,000 outages statewide.
A number of federal offices were open Monday, but allowed employees to take unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework. They will do the same on Tuesday.
The District also canceled classes on Tuesday and set up a collection where residents can drop off their spoiled food instead of waiting for the next garbage pickup.
Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman Charlie Gischlar said crews have been dispatched to signal locations across the state, working to repair and restore lights.
Mr. Gischlar said Monday's commute featured typical congestion, but it appeared "a lot of people heeded the warning" to add extra time for stopping at intersections with nonfunctioning lights.
"Or people started vacation early. There was nothing that was absolutely terrible," he said.
Montgomery County, which had about 500 dark intersections at the peak of its outage, cut that number by more than half by 5 p.m. Monday, according to county police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks.
Heavy trees splintered by winds were chopped up and removed, and crews worked to clear downed power lines from front yards and sidewalks.
But while major roadways were improved, many Montgomery County residents found themselves in the same situation they were in three days ago.
Closing the trunk of her car, which was loaded with bags of ice, 61-year-old Cynthia Nystrom stood in the parking lot of a Giant Food store near Kensington, a near-empty red Slurpee cup in her hand.
"I've got three coolers," Ms. Nystrom said. "I had to throw out anything that didn't fit."
Ms. Nystrom said her power has also been out since Friday. Her days have been spent making runs for ice, gasoline — she uses her car to charge her electronics — and visiting her powered-up family in Frederick, Md.
"I had a doctor's appointment in Georgetown, and I couldn't get out," said Ms. Nystrom, who tried several streets to get out of town, but found them all gridlocked by dark intersections.
Having survived several hot days, Ms. Nystrom said that at this point, she just feels bad for her cats, which have resorted to sleeping on the air conditioner compressor, waiting for it to turn back on.
"We're actually kind of lucky as far as long-term damage," Ms. Nystrom said of her undamaged home. "We just have to get through this outage."
Jason Kirsch, who co-owns Chevy Chase Supermarket with his brother, said the store's contingency plan in case of a power outage was a 53-foot refrigerated trailer. But the refrigerator failed early Monday, and everything inside spoiled.
"For a store that has been in business for 58 years, it's really devastating," Mr. Kirsch said. "We will do everything in our power to survive this event, but it's been as close to a knockout punch as we can get."
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
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