More than 370,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers were still waiting for power yesterday, and company executives cautioned that it could be Friday, more than a week after the first outages occurred, before power is restored to all.

BGE President and Chief Executive Frank O. Heintz blamed the slow pace of recovery on a storm that he called the worst ever faced by the utility and said its economic consequences are "very, very serious ... throughout the community."

Heintz rejected suggestions that his company's response to Tropical Storm Isabel was less than effective. By this morning, he said, the utility would have more than 600 repair crews on the job from 27 states and Canada.

"This company has mobilized an army of linemen to get the last customer" connected, he said.

But even with more than 4,100 workers in the field, Heintz cautioned that the number of customers without power would decline more slowly in coming days because the utility had focused first on repairs that would restore service to the largest numbers of customers.

It takes just as much labor to restore power to two or three homes as it does to bring 500 back on line, he noted. Rain in the forecast this week also could slow repairs, he said.

The storm's high winds knocked down thousands of trees, sometimes several on a single line. BGE had logged more than 6,000 reports of downed power lines and had taken care of 3,000 as of Friday, company officials said.

Service was most seriously disrupted in Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, BGE executives said. But no part of the utility's 2,300-square-mile service area spanning eight counties from Carroll and Howard in the west to Calvert in the east was left untouched.

At 2 p.m. yesterday, the utility estimated that 372,000 customers were without service, including 113,000 in Baltimore County; 91,000 in Anne Arundel; 52,000 in Baltimore City; 37,000 in Howard; 30,000 in Harford; 24,000 in Prince George's; 17,000 in Carroll; 6,000 in Calvert; and 2,000 in Montgomery.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that they were satisfied with the utility's performance thus far, though O'Malley cautioned that consumer unrest might be ahead.

Heintz acknowledged that public patience could wear thin in coming days but said he hoped the utility would get credit for its efforts.

"I think, in this circumstance, the customers have understood the fury," Heintz said. "They understood this was a kind of lifetime-event hurricane. They understand that the damage is extensive."

In September 1999, when Hurricane Floyd swept through Maryland, BGE found itself facing heavy criticism from then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the state Public Service Commission after it took several days to fully restore service.

More than half the company's 1.1 million customers lost power in that storm, many for several days.

A 15-member task force appointed by Glendening suggested that BGE install automated phone systems to give customers accurate estimates of when power would be restored; do more routine tree trimming and bury more electric lines.

BGE responded in 2000 with $2 million in announced operating improvements, including more sophisticated telephone answering systems.

The utility, which called Floyd a 40-year storm, said its goal was to make sure that no customer was without power for longer than four days.

"No one wants to be without power for more than a day," said Stephen F. Wood, then BGE's vice president of electric transmission and distribution. "But when we get into the fifth day, the public opposition is very high."

At that time, members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers blamed a sharp decline in the number of BGE line workers and service operators for the long delays.