It could take more than a week to restore electricity to all 1.5 million customers in the metropolitan area who lost power during Hurricane Isabel, local utility officials said yesterday.
“Unfortunately, with a storm of this magnitude, it’s very difficult to estimate,” said William Sim, president of Potomac Electric Power Co. “It’s far and away the worst storm we’ve had in our service area, and it could be a week or more until all power is restored.”
Since early yesterday, utility companies have dispatched scores of linemen and tree cutters to assess damage to power lines, transformers and substations and to begin restoring electricity to customers. Many crews are working 12-hour shifts to clear fallen trees and run new power lines.
Utilities yesterday provided hundreds of thousands of pounds of dry ice to customers without power to use to keep their perishable foods cold. Thousands of residents lined up to receive 10-pound blocks of dry ice at distribution centers at RFK Stadium in the District, Landover Mall in Prince George’s County and Westfield Shoppingtown in Montgomery County.
Power crews usually start the restoration process by assisting in life-threatening situations, such as downed live wires and re-establishing electric power at hospitals.
They then focus on police stations, fire departments and other service agencies, as well as areas where they can restore power to a large number of customers at one time by repairing substations and major feeder lines.
Crews then concentrate on smaller groups of customers and neighborhoods, and finally focus on individual homes and businesses.
About 531,000 of Pepco’s 720,000 customers in the District and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties were left without power after the storm passed west of the metropolitan area early yesterday. Of the affected Pepco customers, 136,000 live in the District, 228,000 in Montgomery County and 167,000 in Prince George’s County.
“The numbers, I believe, are going to go up — and I believe significantly,” Mr. Sim said, adding that more crews could be drafted from as far away as Canada and New England if officials believe the restoration effort is moving too slowly.
Dominion Virginia Power, which serves 2 million customers in the state and in North Carolina., reported about 390,000 homes and buildings without power in Northern Virginia yesterday afternoon.
Statewide, more than 4 million Virginians were left without electricity in Isabel’s wake — most of them in the Tidewater and Richmond areas. Utility officials said it may take at least two weeks to restore power to all of their Virginia customers. About 150,000 customers in southeast Virginia had their electricity restored yesterday.
BGE, which provides electricity for more than 1 million customers in central Maryland and Baltimore, reported it had about 650,000 customers without power early yesterday — including 27,000 in Prince George’s County and 3,000 in Montgomery County.
At noon yesterday, Pepco began distributing 850,000 pounds of dry ice. The cars of customers waiting for dry ice encircled RFK Stadium. Some complained the distribution was not well organized. “They have no order,” said Northeast resident Lavinia Nolan, 30, who arrived at the stadium at 8:30 a.m. “The police keep giving conflicting statements.”
She said police told her to move her car when she was in front of the line, only to allow other cars to line up and pick up their ice by driving through the parking lot.
Pepco officials were earlier criticized by irate customers and government officials over its inability to restore power quickly to thousands of people after last month’s storms. Some areas went without power for as many as six days.
Pepco said last night that it will not give out more dry ice today. If more becomes available, it will announce distribution points and a schedule. A dry-ice company in Baltimore did not have electricity for nine hours yesterday, delaying its production and distribution of the product to local utilities.