- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2012

Devastating thunderstorms Friday left nine people in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia dead and hundreds of thousands without power in the region as residents across the area face more extreme temperatures and the possibility of additional thunderstorms this weekend.

According to the Associated Press, the storms were blamed for the deaths of six people in Virginia; two in New Jersey; two in Maryland; one in Ohio; one in Kentucky; and one in Washington. More thunderstorms were expected in the D.C. area heading into Saturday night, and triple-digit temperatures were forecast for Sunday with highs expected to reach 100.

One death in Springfield, Va., occurred after a tree crashed into the house of a 90-year-old woman asleep in bed. Authorities said Khiet Nguyen, 27, of Burke, was pronounced dead at the scene after a falling tree hit the car he was driving.

Gov. Bob McDonnell said that two deaths were also confirmed in Bedford County and two more in Albemarle County, all resulting from falling trees. Mr. McDonnell has declared a state of emergency in the wake of the sudden storms.

“The next few days in Virginia are going to be very, very difficult,” he said at a press briefing held at the state Emergency Operations Center in Richmond. “Virginians need to be caring, and compassionate, and on guard.”

Mr. McDonnell said the storms resulted in the largest non-hurricane power outage in state history and the fifth-largest outage overall, with approximately 2.5 million people in the state affected. Nearing 6 p.m. Saturday, Dominion reported about 556,000 customers without power Saturday afternoon, including about 369,000 in Northern Virginia. The company said that it expected a multiday restoration effort.

Coupled with crippling heat, the possibility of additional storms in the coming days, and the lack of preparation that would accompany a hurricane, Mr. McDonnell said the recovery effort will be quite difficult, and urged Virginians to be patient and help one another.

“It is going to be days before power is fully restored in the Commonwealth,” he said. “It could potentially get worse over the next couple of days. It is essential for people to be good neighbors and look out for each other.”

In Northern Virginia, a park police officer was also injured by an uprooted tree, and an 18-year-old male was struck by a power line but was in stable condition after receiving CPR, the AP reported.

The severe storms that packed winds of up to 80 mph followed record-breaking heat on Friday in the D.C. area.

Authorities were also attempting to control a set of unusual brushfires in the Shenandoah Valley, smoke from which could be smelled as far east as Loudoun County.

Emergency 911 services were down in Prince William County Saturday morning; residents were asked to call 703/792-6500 to report an emergency.

The 911 call center was also down in Fairfax County. Residents were asked to go to their nearest police or fire station if they needed to report an emergency.

The severe storms that packed winds of up to 80 mph followed record-breaking heat on Friday in the area.

Maryland was not faring much better. About 75 percent of Pepco’s nearly 310,000 customers in Montgomery County were without power late Saturday morning. The company serves another 226,000 customers in Prince George’s County, about 140,000 of whom were without power. By 6 p.m., 223,000 were still without power in Montgomery County, while 124,000 in Prince George’s County and 67,000 in D.C. were experiencing outages.

Anne Arundel County Police say that Kevin Alan O’Brien, 25, of Edgewater was killed at about 11:30 p.m. Friday when the vehicle he was driving was struck by a falling tree.

The vehicle was carrying two passengers, one of whom remained trapped inside until emergency personnel arrived. Both passengers were treated for minor injuries.

In light of the widespread damage and power outages and the possibility that power may not be restored to everyone for a week, Gov. Martin O’Malley declared a state of emergency in Maryland on Saturday afternoon.

Ed McDonough, public information officer for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, said local crews throughout the state are clearing debris and working to restore power, and their biggest concern is that many residents will be without air conditioning as temperatures in areas including the D.C. suburbs are expected to exceed 100 degrees on Saturday and Sunday.

He said counties are trying to set up emergency shelters at schools and other public buildings, but even some of those are without power.

“The big message we’re trying to get out to people is if you’re fortunate enough to have power and air conditioning, reach out to neighbors or friends who don’t,” Mr. McDonough said. “This thing was kind of sudden so we need to pull together as best we can.”

The District set up a joint command Saturday morning at the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Ward 8, so it could coordinate response efforts and advise the public, said Pedro Ribeiro, spokesman for D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray.

Early Saturday afternoon, the District declared a state of emergency, citing the “devastating” storms from the prior evening and “searing” temperatures plaguing the region.

The declaration, in effect for 15 days, authorizes necessary expenses for storm-recovery efforts and allows the city to seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal, private or nonprofit relief organizations, Mr. Gray’s office said.

“The severity of the storm damage necessitates the declaration of a public emergency to enable District government to respond to emerging issues as expeditiously as possible,” City Administrator Allen Y. Lew said.

“While last night’s storms have wreaked havoc across the metro region, the District government has responded quickly and our emergency services team is fully activated,” Mr. Gray said Saturday from a business trip in China.

With heat indexes hitting the triple digits Saturday, the D.C. Public Libraries were opened as cooling centers. Deanwood, Palisades, Takoma Park and Northwest One libraries, however, were closed Saturday because of power outages.

Meanwhile, city agencies and politicians took to social media to report downed trees across the city and advise residents of their options amid widespread power outages and the midday heat.

“Know that your city is working feverishly to get everyone up to power as soon as humanly and mechanically possible,” HSEMA reported via Twitter.

Residents posted online messages that warn motorists to treat non-functioning traffic lights as four-way stops and not a free-for-all.

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