More Than 1.37 Million Without Power After U.S. Storm

State Farm Leads Insurers With 29,300 Claims From Weekend Storms
A hand-written sign about local power company Pepco hangs on a pole in a residential neighborhood July 2, 2012 in Silver Spring, Maryland. Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Five days after a line of severe storms swept across the mid-Atlantic and Midwest, more than 1.37 million customers remain without power as utility companies responded to unexpected damage across 10 U.S. states.

The storm system, known as a derecho, brought 91 mile (146 kilometer) per hour winds, rain and lightning, disrupting electricity for as many as 4.3 million customers from North Carolina to New Jersey. The widespread blackouts are the worst in the U.S. since Hurricane Irene struck in August. Utilities said the effects were equivalent to a hurricane.

“The storm came in with no warning, no one had time to prepare,” Gregg Edeson, a partner in the global energy section of PA Consulting Group and a former utility lineman, said in a phone interview. “The lightning in these storms went after the transformers which affects a wider area than trees falling on power lines.”

Temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) have increased pressure on utilities to restore power. Some may not get electricity back until July 10, according to utility companies.

At least 23 people were killed by the storm system, the Associated Press reported. A derecho is a widespread wind storm with gusts of at least 58 mph, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

‘Hurricane Punch’

The storm had “a hurricane punch without a hurricane warning,” Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said at a press conference yesterday. O’Malley said it wasn’t possible for local utilities to have brought in outside workers to have more staff in place for restoration efforts before the storm.

Gusts from the storm system were clocked at 91 mph near Fort Wayne, Indiana, and 71 mph at Dulles airport in northern Virginia, the National Weather Service said.

“Devastating winds and rain that ripped through Maryland last Friday left considerable damage, much of which still remains,” Exelon Corp.’s Baltimore Gas & Electric said in a statement yesterday. The utility has restored power to 75 percent of its customers and expects work to continue into the coming weekend.

Washington remains under a state of emergency because of storm damage, with recreation centers and libraries opened as cooling centers for residents.

‘Fed Up’

“This has happened repeatedly, we’ve had power outage after power outage in the District of Columbia and people are fed up with it,” Washington Mayor Vincent Gray, whose own home doesn’t have electricity, said on CNN yesterday. Gray said the city’s utility, Pepco Holdings Inc., should bury power lines underground.

Temperatures are forecast to be in the 90s for the rest of the week in the city, peaking at 99 this weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

“The intense heat combined with lack of power continues to be a real and ongoing safety concern for us,” Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said in a statement yesterday.

President Barack Obama July 1 declared West Virginia and Ohio federal disaster areas. The District of Columbia has requested disaster status.

“Normally a storm like that would have its intensity drained by the Blue Ridge Mountains, but that didn’t happen,” said Dan Riedinger, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, a Washington-based organization that represents utility companies. “There was too much humidity and heat which kept fueling the storm and caused widespread outages very quickly.”

Midwestern Help

Midwestern states that would normally provide additional crews to restore power were also hit by the storm, delaying the arrival of extra help, Riedinger said. There were 30,000 people working to restore power as of yesterday.

Pepco, the Washington-based utility owner, said 99,285 were without power yesterday.

“I’ve been flooded with complaints about Pepco’s poor performance and my tolerance with them has reached it’s end,” Roger Berliner, president of the Montgomery County Council in Maryland, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “They didn’t start going into neighborhoods to repair damage as they ‘assessed’ the situation, but every day matters.”

Hurricane Irene, which made landfall in North Carolina on Aug. 27, caused blackouts for more than 5.6 million customers in eight states, the U.S. Energy Department reported.

The most recent storm affected as many as 4.3 million customers, according to the Edison Electric Institute. Along with Washington, there was damage in North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey.

AEP Blackouts

Dominion Resources Inc., based in Richmond, Virginia, and owner of the state’s largest utility, had 115,835 customers without service yesterday, according to its website. The company sees power returning to “virtually all” customers by July 8. Almost 1 million of its 2.4 million customers lost power because of the storms.

First Energy Corp. had restored power to 77 percent of its customers across three states.

American Electric Power Co., which had more than 1.4 million customers affected, reported about 650,000 homes and businesses without electricity in Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia yesterday. The company, which said the storm was the worst since Hurricane Ike in 2008, sees restoration efforts continuing through July 10 in some areas, according to its website.

“Friends were swimming in the pool, and we were about to serve a meal, and suddenly we heard sizzling and popping and saw steam coming out of the transformer,” said Jane Page, 50, a Anneslie, Maryland, resident who has been without power for three days. “It went out, and power has been out since.”

More Heat

Heat will bear down on the central U.S. from Missouri to the mid-Atlantic states until the weekend, said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.

“We should see lots more 100-degree readings, especially in the southern Midwest, Plains and interior Deep South,” Rogers said. “Cities like Chicago and into the mid-Atlantic should also pick up a few more century readings.”

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