- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Cleanup crews in the region yesterday continued to cut, pile, haul and grind up debris left by Hurricane Isabel, while D.C. residents heaped criticism on Potomac Electric Power Co. for slow response in restoring power to customers.

Officials are still assessing the extent of damage left by Hurricane Isabel and estimating cleanup costs.

In the District, work crews have disposed of 6,000 cubic yards of storm debris, which has been ground into chips and mulch. The mulch will be available to the public in the near future.

Mary Myers, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works said, “cleanup will continue for the next several weeks” and conclude Oct. 24. She said cleanup crews will haul away storm debris from private residences, but residents must put the debris in the “tree-box space” between the curb and sidewalk.

District officials have not yet estimated cleanup costs.

Esther Bowring of Montgomery County’s public information office said: “It is probably going to take two or three weeks to clean everything up.” Broken sidewalks, curbs, gutters and other public property will be repaired after that.

“There is no estimate of the costs at this time,” she said.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner said it is “too early” to point fingers for lack of preparedness or repairs, although he had declared a state of emergency four days before “the storm of the century” arrived.

Isabel caused about $4 billion to $6 billion worth of damage to the state of Maryland, Vernon Thompson, deputy secretary of economic development, said yesterday. The damage was higher than expected.

“I don’t think that there’s ever been anything that’s been bigger,” Mr. Thompson said as he toured some of the most-damaged areas.

Fairfax County officials gave a preliminary cleanup estimate of $2.2 million, including costs for police, fire safety and overtime wages, said Mernie Fitzgerald, a county public information officer.

That estimate does not include the loss of normal revenue for county services that were unavailable because of Isabel, Mrs. Fitzgerald said. Nor does it include an estimate of damages to private properties.

Prince George’s County officials said $2 million has been spent for emergency services and cleanup. Public works and transportation crews worked 12-hour shifts for four days and employed 25 contractors to help cut trees.

Housing damages in Arlington County are estimated at $3 million to $5 million, said Mark Penn of emergency management. “It’s a pure guess, but cleanup will cost the county in the neighborhood of $1 million.”

“We will be several weeks in getting the streets clear,” said Steve Temmermand, division chief of Arlington’s Park and Natural Resources, referring to more than 600 major trees and branches that were knocked down. Misdemeanor inmates in jail are working with cleanup crews in Arlington County.

The trees and branches will be ground up into chips and given to residents for use as mulch in playgrounds, around trees and in parks. Workers were looking for areas to deposit the chips because large stacks may catch fire from internal combustion.

“We recycle them all,” Mr. Temmermand said. “Every spring we run out of chips.”

Pepco officials got an earful yesterday as disgruntled D.C. residents testified before the D.C. Council’s subcommittee on the public interest, chaired by Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat. The subcommittee was looking into how the utility handled recent power outages in the wake of the hurricane and a late August thunderstorm.

“There wasn’t really good follow-through on the citizen complaints,” Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said about Pepco’s responses to customers.

J. Guy Gwynne, of the 3700 block of S Street NW, testified that he was without electricity for five nights and six days. He said Pepco could avoid such outages by laying power lines underground.

“Overhead wiring is obsolete,” Mr. Gwynne said, emphasizing the “desirability of underground wires to avoid all these problems,” and pointing out that power lines in historic Paris are underground.

Underground lines cost two to 10 times more than overhead wires, said Charles J. Clinton, of the D.C. Energy Office.

Pepco President Bill Sim said the cost of laying underground wires for Maryland had been estimated three years ago at $10 billion.

“We should come first,” said Katie Savage, speaking from her motorized wheelchair. She said 40 disabled and elderly residents of Capitol Commons Apartments in the 4200 block of 13 Street NW were virtually trapped when the power went out and elevators ceased working for four days.

“There are people who need refrigeration for life-saving medication,” she said.

Mr. Sim summarized the company’s emergency procedures and said 966 repair crews worked overtime replacing 215 poles and 157 transformers.

“We had almost three times as many customers out of services as we have ever had at any single time in the past,” he said, adding that the company has repaired “more damages than from any other storm in our region’s history.”

Pepco had increased customer-service lines from 133 to 300 since the January 1999 ice storm, which previously was the most damaging.

Mr. Sim said Isabel more than doubled the 230,000 Pepco outages from the August thunderstorms about three weeks earlier.

Pepco officials have said they will review their power outage reporting and answering system.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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