www.baltimoresun.com/explore/harford/news/ph-ag-power-out-0706-20120705,0,3626237.story

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Feeling powerless – and hot about it – in Harford

For a few hundred residents, six days and counting without electricity

BY MARIEL STRATFORD, For The Aegis

10:29 AM EDT, July 6, 2012

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While most Harford County residents were unaffected by the June 29 storm that ripped across the region, and many of those who were affected have recovered, pockets of homes around the county were still without power nearly a week later.

In a number that fluctuates as other non-storm related outages have occurred, BGE reported on its web site at 3 p.m. Thursday that 698 of the company's 100,206 Harford County customers were without power. The web site also reported that 18,796 customers have had their power restored.

In a further update, as of 9 a.m. Friday, BGE's website reported 196 Harford customers without power, with the two largest clusters of 15 to 30 in the Forest Hill and Hickory areas north and northeast of Bel Air.

The local outage numbers are little consolation to those who have had to struggle through a hot, holiday week without the comforts possible with electricity, including residents of Esther Court in Forest Hill.

Electricity went out around 11 p.m. on June 29, after the storm damaged the transformer which supplied power to the street. Consequently, more than a dozen homes have been without air-conditioning during one of the hottest weeks of the summer.

One resident, Sandy Verrecink, sent her 1-year-old son to stay with his grandparents when it became clear the power outage wasn't going to be a temporary. She and her husband, meanwhile, have been coping with the heat as best as they can.

This means staying out of their house and in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible.

"We go to work during the day," Verrecink said. "I've never been more excited to go to work!"

She added that she and her husband have gone to the movies several evenings this week, and once spent the night at a friend's house when it was "just too hot to sleep."

Verrecink's neighbor, Carolyn Dickerson, shared via e-mail a similar story. While Verrecink claimed that she was "trying to stay positive," Dickerson described the past week as "miserable and frustrating," with the difficulties stemming from a lack of electricity made more unbearable by the "lack of sympathy [from] the Harford County elected officials."

Dickerson, in an e-mail to The Aegis followed by a lengthy voice message to an editor, was angry as the Fourth of July arrived and her house was still without power.

"This is the fifth day I called BGE hoping today will be the day power would be restored," she wrote, "only to find out there is 'no estimate time for restoration of power' for my neighborhood."

While expressing an understanding of BGE's situation, Dickerson in her e-mail spared neither Harford County officials nor The Aegis.

"When I call BGE each day for an update on the power outage, they are sympathetic," she wrote. "It would be nice if the elected officials [of] Harford County and The Aegis would acknowledge the citizens of the county who continue to suffer through this oppressing heat without electricity and express sympathy for their plight."

Dickerson could not be reached via her cell phone Friday morning.

Other residents expressed differing opinions about the response to their plight. Jason Berry, also of Esther Court, said he thought phone calls from Harford County government officials had been very helpful keeping people up-to-date on the power outage, but felt BGE could have been more responsive.

Another resident said he believes the Harford County government and BGE are doing their best.

"There are traffic lights out," he said. "And BGE has to get those up first. Safety is the first priority. We know they're working their way up from the south and are on their way here. Harford County is doing the best they can, too, you know, they've opened up cooling centers and sent out phone calls."

All residents agreed, however, the lengthy power outage has been costly. Verrecink and Dickerson described the cost of losing power – the combined loss of refrigerators and freezers full of food and the added cost of eating out every evening.

Berry, who was powering part of his home with a generator borrowed from a friend, had a working refrigerator, but lamented the cost of spending money on the gas necessary to keep the generator running.

High temperatures continue

In addition to the persistent outages, Harford residents are still experiencing a heat wave.

Harford County opened cooling centers last week and they will remain open through Saturday at local library branches, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, according to a news release.

The library system said residents who don't have power can visit to charge cell phones, use computers and ride out the heat wave, also noting that many staff members "have set up areas for games and other fun indoor activities to stay cool."

As of Thursday, the National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for Harford County until 8 p.m., with maximum temperatures to hit the 90s to 100 degrees and an expected heat index of around 105 degrees.

The temperature for Bel Air as of 4 p.m. was listed at 97 degrees on the National Weather Service website, with a high of 96 degrees forecast for Friday, 97 degrees on Saturday and 93 degrees on Sunday.

Additional data recorded for Harford by the NWS at the Phillips Army Airfield at Aberdeen Proving Ground show the high temperature Thursday did indeed reach 97 with the heat index soaring to 106.

At 9 a.m. Friday, the NWS website reported the temperature at Phillips had already reached 95 degrees, although the Weather Channel's http://www.weather.com website reported the Bel Air temperature was 86 degrees with an excessive heat watch in effect through Saturday.

None of the four heat-related deaths in Maryland that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is reporting have been in Harford County, but county Emergency Operations Center Manager Rick Ayers confirmed Thursday there have been 13 heat-related medical calls in the past week.

As of Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service was calling for 85 degree weather on Monday, a break from the recent heat wave.

Kayla Bawroski also contributed to this report.

This updated article contains a correction from an earlier version. Harford library branches close at 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.