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.
After days of snarls, public transportation routes were cleared. The Maryland Transit Administration has fully restored all of its services except Light Rail, which it expects to have in complete operation Thursday.
And Baltimore area school districts, forced to delay opening for the new school year for two days, will open all schools that had power restored by late Tuesday afternoon. In both Baltimore City and Baltimore County, 20 schools will remain closed.
Anne Arundel County schools, which opened last week, will resume classes Wednesday in all but 15 schools that remained without power. In Harford County, all but 11 schools were to be open Wednesday.
Three schools in Howard County were still in the dark Tuesday, though the rest of the district began its school year. School officials urged parents to check for updates on the district's website at 5:15 a.m. Wednesday.
Some residents who remained without power were running out of basic supplies by Tuesday afternoon.
Howard County gave out emergency food at its Dorsey building in Ellicott City and water rations to those without electricity. Vehicles from around the region trickled in to pick up ready-to-eat meals and bottled water. County officials requested the supplies Saturday, which were delivered Monday. MEMA said Howard was among the first to request the supplies; county officials distributed all 750 meals and 1,800 water bottles during Tuesday.
But some Western Howard County residents said the location was not convenient for them and their neighbors, many of whom need electricity to power their wells. Some of the roads were still impassible because of fallen trees and debris, said Glenelg resident Diane Mikulis.
Mikulis said she was prepared for an outage, filling her bathtub with water and purchasing food and supplies before the hurricane hit. But going on four days without power, her tub and other provisions are running dry, she said.
Without power, residents didn't have access to the Internet or television and limited access to phones to hear the announcements, said Lisa Feinberg, president of the Glenelg Manor Estates Homeowners Association, which has about 270 residents.
"Nobody knows to come here," she said. She and Mikulis were spreading the word by Facebook and text message.
County spokesman Kevin Enright said county officials were confident that the location, near major highways, would help the residents who were hit the hardest.
"The [outage] problems are overwhelmingly Ellicott City and more toward the east side of the county," he said. There were no plans to run another site in the western part of the county, although emergency officials may be able to address individual needs, Enright said.
Carla Dahle, 72, and her husband, William McQuay, 78, appreciated the ready-to-eat meals because they had been without power since Sunday morning. A neighbor, who is a county employee, told them about the distribution. He also let them plug McQuay's oxygen tank into his generator.
"It is quite a traumatic experience," particularly for seniors, she said.
She was hesitant to cook too much on her propane grill, wanting to conserve the gas.
Dahle also did not fault the utilities. "They gave enough warning to get ice, propane," she said.
Alicia Cox of Halethorpe drove to Ellicott City with her twins, Aadyn and Addyson, after her husband heard about the food distribution on the radio on his way to work.
The power outage has been difficult with the toddlers running around in the dark, she said.
"We've been doing a lot of early bedtimes," she said.
The power outage has added to the financial strain of having two little ones at home, Cox said. "It's hard to keep milk fresh," she said.
Cox wasn't upset about the delay in restoring her power. "People have had it a lot worse," she said.
But she hopes that BGE lives up to its estimate of Friday, so the power is back on in time for the twins' second birthday.
Due to erroneous information provided by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, an earlier version incorrectly reported that 30,000 chickens died in Maryland during Irene. A departmental spokeswoman said Wednesday the chickens died in Delaware when a chicken house flooded.