- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

Five days after Hurricane Isabel barreled through the Washington metropolitan area, tens of thousands of residents remained without electricity, and residents in low-lying neighborhoods began the grueling work of gutting mildew- and mosquito-ridden homes.

Commuters returning to work were delayed by blank traffic signals, downed power lines and trees, and detours.

School officials in the District and Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties canceled classes for a third day yesterday.

“There were still too many traffic lights out, too many trees down, and too many power lines dangling,” said D.C. Schools Superintendent Paul L. Vance. “I was just unwilling to risk one child getting hurt or fatally injured.”

Fairfax County officials opened schools two hours late yesterday. Schools in Alexandria opened on time.

Today almost all schools in Northern Virginia, Montgomery County and the District will be open.

The death toll from the storm continued to rise. Prince George’s County authorities yesterday blamed a Chillum man’s death on carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator in his basement.

Isabel has caused at least 34 fatalities, including 19 in Virginia, eight in Maryland and one in the District.

President Bush flew by helicopter to Richmond yesterday to discuss cleanup efforts with state and federal authorities.

“If you need help, let us know,” Mr. Bush said during a videoconference briefing with governors from several states. “The true character of this country comes out in times of stress and emergency. This country has responded once again.”

Mr. Bush said he would honor Gov. Mark Warner’s request to expand emergency declarations to 43 additional jurisdictions in Virginia. Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush rode out the storm at Camp David, Md.

Sens. George Allen and John W. Warner, Virginia Republicans, toured northern sections of the state. They said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration would open temporary offices in Alexandria to help businesses recover.

Mr. Bush has declared Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Delaware and the District federal disaster areas, freeing up federal grants and low-interest loans for storm victims. Those filing for assistance are encouraged to document their losses with photographs and receipts.

Public works departments throughout the region opened sites for residents to drop off debris or spoiled food.

More than 220,000 utility customers in the metropolitan Washington area were still without electricity yesterday. Officials said some might have to wait until Friday to have their electricity restored.

“We have encountered problems. In many cases, it’s taken eight crews up to two days to fix,” said William Sim, president of Potomac Electric Power Co.

Pepco officials said the company had restored power to about two-thirds of its customers in the District and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. However, some 153,000 customers remained without power last night.

“We know there are customers who are tired, frustrated and anxious to see their power restored,” Mr. Sim said. “I ask them to be patient just a little longer.”

As of Sunday, Pepco crews had replaced 78 poles, more than 2,000 fuses, 430 cross arms and 27 miles of cable. “These are numbers way beyond anything we have ever seen,” Mr. Sim said.

Verizon workers continued to replace an estimated 500 telephone poles destroyed in Maryland and Virginia. At least 12,000 customers in the District, Maryland and Virginia lost telephone service as Isabel blew through the region. Telephone company officials say they expect that figure to increase as customers return to their homes after evacuations.

About 6,300 customers in the District and its suburbs reported loss of phone service. That was three to four times the number of reports on a typical day.

Cordless phones, which plug into electrical outlets, didn’t work once the storm cut power lines.

Like dry ice, patience is in short supply across the region.

Many residents were irritated that electric companies and government officials were unable to restore power five days after the storm hit.

“I understand that people are frustrated — I’m frustrated,” said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. “We’re working, of course, with the power company to get power restored, but it’s been very slow going.”

Northern Virginia’s low-lying, flood-prone neighborhoods like Belle View and New Alexandria were hit hard.

“I had the governor in here yesterday,” said Jeff Creager, who lives near the intersection of H and 14th streets in the New Alexandria section of Fairfax County. Mounds of furniture and debris lined the neighborhood’s streets yesterday.

“The governor said that he felt my pain,” Mr. Creager said as he hauled ruined furniture to the curb. “It’s nice all the politicians stop by, but when they leave it’s back to being a ghost town around here.”

Mr. Warner toured Mr. Creager’s home during the weekend with county and state emergency management officials and with television news cameras in tow.

Mr. Creager says he is more eager for a visit from FEMA, which he hopes will help recover some of his family’s losses not covered by his homeowner’s insurance. He spent yesterday sopping up stagnant water from warped floorboards and applying vinegar to kill the smell of mildew.

“This area is the worst part of town for flooding,” Mr. Creager said. “I think that if we can go over and fix the infrastructure in Iraq, then we sure as heck should be able to do that here and add a few pumping stations around town.”

Down the street, Scott Caudill, whose home on the 1400 block of H Street was condemned, said he would recover from the storm only after months of renovation. “Before we can do anything, we have to pay the county $56 [for work permits],” he said. “Talk about kicking a guy when he’s down.”

Fairfax County officials defended the charges for the permits. “It doesn’t seem fair that everybody would have to pay for it,” said Merni Fitzgerald, a county government spokeswoman. “If there were to be waivers, there would still be costs involved and the money would have to come from general funds.”

Officials said residents may apply for work permits at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center at 2017 Belle View Blvd.

Officials were looking for a backup power system for Fairfax County water plants. More than 1 million residents were told to boil tap water when systems used to power the plants lost electricity. The boil advisory was lifted Sunday.

“We’re going to have to look at a way to have a backup power system for at least one,” said Kathryn K. Hanley, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.

Federal offices opened for the first time since Wednesday, enabling 350,000 employees in the area to return to work. But flooding in the underground parking garage at the Coast Guard’s national headquarters on the Potomac River limited staffing to officers of captain’s rank or higher and supervisory civilian personnel.

William Glanz and Tom Ramstack contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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