- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

The Washington area went back to work yesterday, but with hundreds of traffic lights still out across the region, the morning commute and the drive home were slower and more hazardous and aggravating than usual.

More than 500 traffic lights were out in Montgomery County at the height of Hurricane Isabel. As of yesterday, 63 lights remained inoperable. The District was without 133 of its signals as of noon yesterday, and Fairfax County was still without nine signals.

Law enforcement officials said drivers should treat the intersections as four-way stops.

“We put every officer we could muster into uniform to be ready for traffic duty and while school was out, we used crossing guards,” said Officer Derek Baliles, spokesman for Montgomery County police.

In Takoma Park, at the intersection of Philadelphia and Maple avenues, two Takoma Park School crossing guards were out directing traffic.

“We were out here during rush-hour traffic this morning and we haven’t had an accident,” said Joan B. Allen.

At the intersection of Sligo Creek Parkway and New Hampshire Avenue, traffic lights were out, but no police or crossing guards were there. Instead, road crews put up makeshift stop signs.

In Prince George’s County, officers were put back on regular duty and were not out directing traffic.

There have been 34 deaths in the region associated with Hurricane Isabel, several of those coming after the storm was over.

Most of the deaths were from traffic accidents and drownings that occurred at the height of the storm, but the biggest threats emerging in Isabel’s wake involved the misuse of gas-powered generators and accidental contact with downed electric wires.

Those downed lines and tree-clogged neighborhood streets kept some schools closed yesterday despite good weather.

Utility and traffic officials warned there were still too many hazards on area streets.

“Stay away from power lines; I don’t care what the situation is, whether you have power or not, and keep your children away,” said Bob Dobkin, spokesman for Potomac Electric Power Co.

Baltimore Gas and Electric spokeswoman Ellen Kane also warned customers to steer clear of power lines.

Anyone finding a downed power line should “please call us,” she said. “Do not attempt to move the line.”

Two utility workers in Baltimore were killed yesterday trying to remove a tree limb from a power line.

For residents who experienced flooding and lost power, Mrs. Kane and Mr. Dobkin said the power companies’ responsibility stops at the meter.

Potentially dangerous electric problems remaining within homes need to be identified and fixed by licensed electricians.

She said that once service is restored, residents should leave a porch light on at night so the repair crews know that they have power.

Gas-powered generators, which have been a godsend for residents hanging on in powerless neighborhoods, have also proven deadly when misused.

Thirteen people, including six children, were found in a home on Linda Lane in Annandale suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.

“That was caused by a gas power generator left in the home,” said an official with Fairfax County police.

Pete Piringer, spokesman for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue, said there were 30 to 40 incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning reported in the county, “but no fatalities, thankfully.”

Mr. Dobkin warned that gas-powered generators must only be used outdoors.

“And whatever you do, do not hook it up to your junction box, plug it directly into the appliance,” he said.

A generator produces a fair amount of electrical current, and if hooked up to the junction box, it could send current back through dead power lines.

“If we have someone working trying to get a line back up, they could be shocked by the current feeding through the generator,” Mr. Dobkin said.

Fires were another hazard.

Mr. Piringer said there were at least six fires in Montgomery due to appliances coming back on with the restored power.

In many cases, authorities said the fires began when stoves ignited items that were left near the burners.

Other blazes began after power surges overloaded electrical wires.

In the District, D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services spokesman Alan Etter said a rowhouse in the 1300 block of Spring Road NW caught fire when the sudden surge to so many appliances that were left on caused an overload.

S.A. Miller contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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