- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

Officials at the three power companies that serve the Washington area say they may be unable to restore service to all homes and businesses until Friday night, infuriating customers who have been in the dark since Hurricane Isabel struck five days ago.

Areas still without power include sections of Alexandria, Arlington, Chevy Chase, Rockville, Silver Spring and Wheaton.

“This is the worst,” said Elva Osborne, 88, who has lived with her husband on Foxhall Road NW since 1949. “I have tried to get through to Pepco. You have no chance to say if you have an emergency.”

Janet L. McElligott, 42, an international consultant, complained that this is the second time in two weeks that her neighborhood has been without power for five days.

The power company officials said they have made much progress since the outages peaked Friday morning, adding that they are moving as quickly as they can.

“We have not let up. I can assure you of that,” said Tom Welle, a spokesman for Potomac Electric Power Co., which has 720,000 customers in the District and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

At its peak, about 500,000 Pepco customers lost power during the storm. By 5 p.m. yesterday, it had restored power to roughly 70 percent of its customers, with 153,000 still in the dark.

Dominion Virginia Power has 2.2 million customers in Virginia and North Carolina, including 724,816 in Northern Virginia. At the peak of the storm, 1.8 million customers lost power.

By 5 p.m. yesterday, the utility had restored power to 60 percent of its customers, with 717,774 to go. Customers in Northern Virginia without power numbered 44,937.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. has 1.2 million customers in the Baltimore and Washington areas, including 83,000 customers in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

At the peak of the storm, 650,000 customers lost power. By 7 p.m. yesterday, it had restored power to all but 180,000. About 12,900 customers in Montgomery and Prince George’s still had no power.

All of the utility companies say they face the same problems restoring service: clearing fallen trees, replacing broken electric poles and getting their trucks to rural areas and other isolated pockets.

Another challenge: coordinating the utility workers that have arrived from other states to help the local power companies. An estimated 9,700 workers from other jurisdictions are helping Dominion alone, spokesman Jeff Zidonis said.

Pepco has more than 500 crews working to restore power during the day and another 200 crews on the job overnight, Mr. Welle said. Although it was expected to rain last night, he said the utility would keep its crews on the road unless it began to thunder and lightning.

The companies have the same top priority when it comes to restoring electricity after a major outage: taking care of downed, live wires and restoring power to hospitals, police stations and firehouses.

After that, the companies follow different guidelines when deciding who gets power restored next.

Dominion fixes the problems that affect the largest number of customers. A single home without power in an otherwise unaffected neighborhood would be the last to have power restored, spokeswoman Daisy Pridgen said.

Dominion makes exceptions when it comes to customers with special needs, such as people with medical conditions that require power to run life-sustaining equipment, Mrs. Pridgen said.

Pepco doesn’t have a priority system. It tries to do everything at the same time, spokeswoman Summer Stitz said.

Repair crews attempt to fix the problems that affect the largest number of people. But the crews will fix power lines to individual homes and groups of homes while in the area.

BGE spokeswoman Ellen Kane said its crews also go after the largest outages first, but the second priority is customers who have been without power the longest.

“Right now, Pepco doesn’t have a very good reputation in the town of Upper Marlboro,” Mayor Helen H. Ford told company representatives in a conference call yesterday afternoon.

Some residents of Upper Marlboro, the Prince George’s County seat, have arrived at Town Hall in tears because they still don’t have power, she said.

“My frustration is rising along with everyone else,” said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat.

Maryland Delegate Jean B. Cryor, Potomac Republican, urged Pepco to meet with other utilities before winter to discuss ways to work together to better prepare for bad weather.

“Frankly, people feel that meeting should have taken place a couple weeks ago. … I don’t think we can go through another storm like this,” she said.

Staff writers Arlo Wagner, Judith Person and Shayla Bennett contributed to this report.

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