- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Ernest Burnham sent his daughter Heaven to her room when he saw the sky turn dark before a severe thunderstorm hit the area Tuesday. The retired federal employee from Hyattsville said he had a gut feeling that the rotten tree in his back yard would fall through the kitchen window and harm her.

“The thing about it is, it went from day to night in seemingly seconds,” said Mr. Burnham, 51. “It was a loud crack. It sounded like somebody had blown this place up.”

The tree fell through a section of his roof, leaving a gaping hole over one of his kitchens. The heavy rains flooded the kitchen and bathroom.

“Water was flowing through the roof like a fountain,” he said as he pointed to the cracks in his living room ceiling. “It’s still dripping now.”

Mr. Burnham was one of hundreds of thousands of residents in Maryland, Virginia and the District who spent most of yesterday cleaning up after the storm, which left an estimated 245,000 residences, schools and businesses without power.

Local utility companies restored electricity to most of their customers by last night, but another thunderstorm that came through the area in the early evening hours knocked thousands more off the grid.

Officials said tens of thousands of buildings and homes may not have power againuntil tomorrow.

Raley Wright, 63, who was busy cleaning up tree limbs that had fallen on the sidewalk in front of his house in Bladensburg, said Tuesday’s storm was “quick and devastating.”

Schools officials weren’t sure last night whether they would reopen dozens of darkened school buildings. Officials canceled classes at 33 schools in Montgomery County, 10 in Prince George’s County and seven in Anne Arundel County.

Government officials in several counties passed out dry ice to residents who wanted to preserve perishable goods, and water bottles.

Businesses also tried to cope with the outages. Some sales representatives called customers from their home telephones while their offices were shut down. Other businesses filled in for nonworking equipment by using battery-operated calculators or pens and pencils.

“We’re still open but not enough customers,” said Young Choi, a cashier at Woodmoor Supermarket in Silver Spring.

Mrs. Choi used a calculator to determine her customers’ bills as her cash register was inoperative, and rows of grocery shelves remained dark.

Meanwhile, local utility workers yesterday worked nonstop through the day to restore power to customers.

Pepco had 250 crews working 12- or 16-hour shifts and had called more crews from Connectiv in Wilmington, Del., and Pennsylvania Power & Light Corp.

The storm last night raised the number of overall reported outages, which had been reduced to 51,000, to approximately 115,000, said a Pepco spokesman.

About 72,000 Montgomery County customers, 35,000 Prince George’s County residents and 12,300 in the District did not have electricity last night.

Baltimore Gas and Electric, which supplies most of the power to Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel and northern Prince George’s counties, as well as Baltimore city, expected to have power restored to most of its customers by late last night before the other storm hit. About 30,000 customers remained without electricity at 8 p.m. yesterday.

“Anne Arundel was hardest hit,” said spokesman Tom Poe, adding that 300 crews were “working around the clock” and 100 more were being called in from Kentucky, Ohio and New York.

About 63,000 Montgomery County customers, 18,000 Prince George’s County residents and 9,000 in the District did not have electricity last night.

Dominion Virginia Power, which supplies electricity to most of Northern Virginia, had the total outage figure down to 2,300 customers before the storm last night raised the number to more than 43,000. About 41,000 of those outages were in Northern Virginia.

Montgomery County opened 159 schools after a two-hour delay. By last night repair crews had restored electricity to all but 14 county schools. Power at four of 10 Prince George’s County schools that were closed was restored, but school officials said they would wait until this morning to decide whether to reopen them.

Despite it being only two days into the school year, Martel Hall, a ninth-grader at Bladensburg High School in Prince George’s County, said he had no problem taking the day off.

“I want to go home and go back to sleep,” he said. “I got ready like it was a regular school day. I woke up at 6:30 a.m., took a shower, brushed my teeth and then my neighbor told me we didn’t have school.”

Martel, 13, visited his former teachers at his middle school instead of going back home.

Police and emergency rescue crews also worked through the day, directing traffic at intersections, responding to calls for service and patrolling businesses and neighborhoods that had no power.

“This was not a localized storm. It was all over Montgomery County,” said Officer Derek Berlage, a spokesman for the county’s police. “More than 100 intersections were without traffic lights. Roads were closed by fallen trees and power lines. … Patrols concentrated on darkened neighborhoods. They watched businesses in darkened areas.”

Fire and rescue teams in Montgomery County responded to more than 600 emergency calls, including three house fires caused by untended candles that had been lit when the lights went out.

“We have been able to answer all calls,” Officer Berlage said.

Fire and rescue crews in Prince George’s County answered 350 calls for service in a four-hour period Tuesday night. They typically answer 325 calls in 24 hours, said Capt. Chauncey Bowers, a spokesman for the county’s Fire and Rescue Department.

At least two fires in the county were caused by lightning strikes last night, said Pete Piringer, spokesman for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service. One was in the 8900 block of Barrow Gate Court in Potomac and the other was in the 3600 block of Adams Drive in Aspen Hill. Mr. Piringer said there were injuries in both fires, but the extent is not known.

Rescue units also responded to the Forest Glen rehab center at 2700 Barker Street. The power had gone out, and crews assisted with evacuations. At least two patients who were on oxygen were taken to hospitals.

Tom Ramstack contributed to this report.

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