As the pace of electricity restoration slowed Tuesday, the aftermath of Hurricane Irene continued to frustrate thousands of utility customers and officials announced another storm-related death in Maryland.
More than 165,000 customers remained without power across the state Wednesday morning, and only about 47,000 Marylanders had their power turned back on Tuesday. Crews have made the big repairs, so each fix now reaches a smaller number of customers, saidBaltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman Linda Foy.
After days without power, some residents are struggling to meet basic needs without power. Others are turning to generators, and officials are urging caution after an Ellicott City man died from carbon monoxide poisoning while using a generator to power his home, and on Wednesday, a fire in a generator inAnne Arundel County caused minor damage to the garage where it was housed.
For some Marylanders, life has returned to normal three days after the massive storm slammed into the state over the weekend. Schools are reopening, including several jurisdictions that will begin the school year Wednesday, and transit is largely back to normal.
BGE brought in more out-of-state workers from Illinois and Alabama to help restore power. There were about 5,000 people working on BGE lines by the end of the day, Foy said. The utility said in a statement that power had been restored to about 75 percent of customers and it was on track to have most outages repaired by Friday. More than 1.1 million customers lost power due to the storm.
"As you get closer to full restoration," Foy said, "generally fewer and fewer customers at a time are repaired."
In 2003, following Tropical Storm Isabel, it took eight days to repair more than 1 million outages. With Irene, which cut across several East Coast states, Maryland's electric infrastructure was among the hardest hit by the storm.
Dominion, which owns utilities along the coast of Virginia and in northeastern North Carolina, said about 350,000 customers were without power Tuesday evening. About 1.2 million of the company's customers had been affected by the storm. In the New York metropolitan area, electric company Con Edison said it had restored power to 155,000 customers — more than 80 percent of those who were affected by the storm.
Customers around Maryland complained about the continued outages, and some questioned why other neighborhoods had been reconnected before theirs. The Maryland Public Service Commission, the state's top energy regulator, has received 300 complaints about power outages around the state.
"There aren't any trucks in the city," said Ednor Gardens resident Anna Mae Becker. "At least I haven't seen any."
Becker, who thinks that BGE is favoring suburban counties over the city, said she knows residents in Ellicott City and Elkton who had their power restored more quickly than in her neighborhood, even though they live in smaller communities.
"Our priorities are public safety, critical infrastructure and the number of customers affected by a repair," said Foy, explaining the criteria used to decide the order of repairs. Critical infrastructure includes hospitals, water treatment facilities and emergency dispatch centers, she said.
After those considerations, Foy said, the company also takes into account the length of time customers have been without power. She said BGE is doing its best to manage customers' expectations about electricity restoration. In addition to running radio ads and using social media to get the word out about when repairs should be anticipated, the company is testing a "predictive dialer" program that automatically calls customers the day the company expects to restore their service.
Baltimore City Councilman Robert W. Curran was concerned that his tree-dense district in Northeast Baltimore was going to be a low priority for BGE because some blocked alleys are not heavily trafficked. He was heartened, though, that neighbors in his region were assisting one another by running extension cords across the street to homes that were still without power.
In Howard County, police reported Tuesday that Won Koo Sung, 48, was killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator. Sung was pronounced dead Monday night at his house in the 2700 block of Old Saint John's Lane, according to the Howard County Police Department.
His wife, Young Sin Sung, 47, and his son, Jason Sung, 17, were in critical condition at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, police said.
Sung is the second victim whose death is related to the storm. A woman died Saturday in Queenstown after a large tree knocked a chimney through the roof of her Queen Anne's County residence.
On Wednesday morning, firefighters took 10 minutes to extinguish a fire in a generator that caused minor damage to the Cape St. Clair garage where it was housed, a fire spokesman said.
In addition to downing trees and power lines, the storm caused significant agricultural losses, said Maryland Agriculture Secretary Earl "Buddy" Hance, who released a preliminary damage report Tuesday. About 200 acres of watermelons were lost and 600 acres of string beans could be un-harvestable, he said in a statement. Soybeans will actually benefit from the extra rain, he said. In Delaware, 30,000 chickens were killed during the storm, a department spokeswoman said Wednesday.