By Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun
12:42 PM EDT, July 1, 2012
A deadly storm, fueled by extreme heat and humidity, left Maryland in a state of emergency that continued Sunday, with hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses without power, with some residents expected to remain in the dark over the next week.
The severity of the Friday-night storm — being blamed for at least two deaths in Maryland and 10 others around the region — caught state authorities off guard, and officials sought help from Southern states to restore power. In the Baltimore region alone, roughly 306,000 remained without power as of 10 a.m. Sunday.
"We had a very historic event [Friday] night, with a front that ripped across Maryland — high, high winds … coming at a time where we are experiencing very high temperatures," Gov. Martin O'Malley said Saturday in a conference call with members of his Cabinet.
The two-term Democrat said he took a call from President Barack Obama, who was at Camp David, to make sure Maryland was receiving the federal assistance needed.
O'Malley and his counterparts in Washington, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia declared statewide emergencies because of the damage, which stretched 500 miles. About 3.9 million homes and businesses around the region lost power.
Kevin Alan Obrien, 25, of Edgewater was pronounced dead about 11:25 p.m. after a tree fell on his 2009 Ford Escape while he was traveling east in the 400 block of Harwood Road, Anne Arundel County police said. Obrien's two passengers were taken to Anne Arundel Medical Center with minor injuries.
A second death was reported in Montgomery County, where a 71-year-old Silver Spring woman's body was found by fire personnel who were responding to a downed tree on Grant Avenue, according to Montgomery County Police. A large maple tree fell and crashed through the roof sometime overnight, police said.
And a search was under way for one person after a boat capsized early Saturday about 15 nautical miles south of Annapolis, near Breezy Point. Four people were rescued about 3:30 a.m., including two who were saved by a crew member on a fishing boat and two found by the Coast Guard.
Frances B. Phillips, deputy secretary for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said because of the extreme heat, residents should look out for one another and take precautions to stay healthy, such as drinking plenty of water.
The high temperature Sunday is expected to be 98 degrees, with a possibility of thunderstorms. Temperatures are expected in the 90s for most of the week. Baltimore city's health department said Sunday afternoon that it has extended the Code Red Heat Alert through Tuesday, meaning cooling centers will be open and distributing water.
Those without medical emergencies should go to public places, such as cooling centers, rather than emergency rooms, Phillips said. Cooling centers were opened Saturday across Maryland, including 15 in the city. The city also began to distribute ice Saturday night at four sites.
Norris Witherspoon, 38, of Highlandtown stopped by the Southeast Community Action Center to beat the heat, get a cold bottle of water and charge his smartphone. He had been without power since 10 p.m. Friday and took his 57-year-old mother to his sister's house in Owings Mills to stay cool.
"You might as well sleep outside," Witherspoon said.
Witherspoon said he was worried about a couple of hundred dollars' worth of food from his refrigerator he'd have to throw out if his power wasn't restored soon.
State utilities called in crews from Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and other Southern states to help repair the downed power lines, said Rob Gould, spokesman for Baltimore Gas and Electric.
"This is going to be a very extended restoration," extending late into the coming week, Gould said. "What we're really finding is damage that is the magnitude of a hurricane."
By comparison, 740,000 people were without power because of damage caused by Hurricane Irene last year.
Melissa Kitner-Triolo stretched an orange electric cord across Tunbridge Road in Homeland from her neighbor's house to keep her refrigerator powered. She had been watching television with her 15-year-old daughter, Eliza Triolo, Friday night when the power went out.
"I think it was one of the worst storms we had, as far as how quickly it came up," Kitner-Triolo said. "It was the wind more than anything. At first, you didn't hear the rain so much. It was like a microburst. It was pretty terrifying."
The damage from the storm included two collapsed buildings in Baltimore and a police cruiser that was crushed under a tree limb.
About 11:45 p.m., a tree fell on a police vehicle in the 4600 block of Charles St. The female officer was taken to a nearby medical center and is in good condition, police said. A second officer was struck in the arm and also taken for treatment.
Sgt. Anthony Smith said a three-story building at 1901 E. 31st St., the site of a construction zone, collapsed, as well as a three-story vacant building at 1934 Wilkens Ave. Smith said the areas are closed to pedestrian traffic; no injuries were reported.
Alessandro Vitale witnessed a tractor-trailer accident on the Bay Bridge late Friday as winds approached 80 mph. Vitale watched the accident through his windshield as he was driving east across the bridge, shortly after winds shook his own Ford F350 truck side to side near the middle of the span.
"All of a sudden I felt my truck moving," he said by phone. "I look to my right. There is a tractor-trailer that starts swaying. I slow down and watch this tractor-trailer completely get knocked over."
"It's resting on the concrete barrier — almost falling off the bridge," he said.
Vitale, who runs business operations at the Harbor East restaurant Chazz: A Bronx Original, was driving to Ocean City. The driver of the tractor-trailer suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was taken to a nearby hospital, according to Sgt. Kirk Perez of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.
Officials were prepared to close the Bay Bridge if any storms Saturday night were severe.
Ken Mallette, director of Maryland Emergency Management Agency, said residents should use extreme caution when driving. Traffic lights across the state are out because of power outages, he said. Drivers should also be alert for downed wires and first responders and utility crews working on the roadsides.
Meanwhile, three Baltimore City fire companies that had been slated to permanently close Sunday will remain open for four more days due to the weather, said department spokesman Chief Kevin Cartwright. Fire officials have decided to keep the three companies open until Thursday morning to help clean up from the storm and aid those suffering from heat-related health problems, he said.
Firefighters have been helping with downed wires and caring for people afflicted with heat exhaustion or heat stroke — particularly elderly and home-bound people who have lost power, Cartwright said.
Three companies — East Baltimore's Truck 15, West Baltimore's Truck 10 and Southeast Baltimore's Engine 11 — had been set to close Sunday morning as a cost-cutting measure.
The closures have been postponed until 7 a.m. Thursday, Cartwright said.
In Northwest Baltimore and Baltimore County, residents were asked to conserve water as tanks were expected to refill overnight after a loss of power at pumping stations. That resulted in areas, including Reisterstown and Owings Mills, being without water.
Baltimore residents are asked to continue to conserve water during the heat wave so it is available for vital services, such as hospitals and senior citizen complexes. To help, residents could defer household chores, such as laundry and dishes, until evening hours.
Francie and Jared Spahn said they feel lucky, even though a huge sugar maple tree limb fell on their Guilford home, near their son's bedroom around midnight Saturday.
"It looked like daylight outside; there was so much lightning," Francie Spahn said. "And the thunder was so strong, it was rattling the windows.
"And then I hear something crunch, and Jared comes and gets me and goes, 'Don't scream or you'll wake the kids, but come here and look at something.' It hit every window or glass door that we have, and we were just very thankful that nothing shattered. It could have been much worse. We were one of the lucky ones."
Baltimore Sun reporters Childs Walker, Scott Calvert, Andy Rosen, Julie Scharper and Jessica Anderson and Reuters contributed to this article.
Copyright © 2013, The Baltimore Sun