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Richest counties hardest hit by storm

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The blizzard that walloped Maryland last weekend was progressive as well as paralyzing - seeming to exact a higher toll on some of the state's wealthiest areas.

In Howard County, residents on quiet cul-de-sacs waited until Monday to see the first plow pass.

Montgomery County, which boasts some of the state's most desirable addresses, saw more power outages than any other jurisdiction. Utility officials blamed the stately trees that line many streets, whose branches cracked under the weight of wet snow and brought down lines.

"The teeth of the storm went right through here," said Bob Hainey, a spokesman for Pepco, which provides power to that part of the state.

While Montgomery has a reputation as a liberal enclave where residents are willing to fork over high taxes in exchange for government services, the response to the storm left some grumbling.

Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, a Democrat who lives in Chevy Chase, said she was disappointed that county and state agencies and the power companies did not appear to be working together as well as they should have.

"I understand this was an incredible snowstorm and that everyone is working hard," she said, "but something here is flawed. We need more of a central coordination."

Overall, however, residents in both counties appeared willing to cut agencies and utility companies a good bit of slack.

The tone of Facebook messages and other communications that Howard County Executive Ken Ulman has been receiving "began to change," he said, "as people watch the kind of work it takes and it dawns on people that this is a construction operation, not plowing."

Donna Edmonds' neighbors watched in joyful anticipation Monday when a Howard snowplow arrived on Maple Glen Court in western Ellicott City just before 10 a.m. With just a handful of homes on a dead-end street, she knew hers would not be the first one plowed.

"Pretty much everybody in the neighborhood came outside," Edmonds said, ready to begin shoveling the plow's wake from the end of their driveways.

"When the plow comes, your mood gets a little bit better," she said. "The first day [of snow] was fun, but it gets old."

Others weren't so patient.

David Marc, 54, a retired Baltimore city transportation worker who lives in historic Elkridge, where a reported 38.3 inches of snow fell, was fuming Monday that the residential streets in his area hadn't been cleared.

"It should be a disgrace to the county administration," he said in an e-mail, adding later in a telephone interview that despite the storm's severity, he felt the county should have been quicker. "You gotta kick it up a notch," he said.

By midday Monday, more than 37,000 Montgomery residents remained without power, according to a Pepco spokesman, compared to 641 BGE customers in Howard, where underground utilities are more common.

Montgomery's power problems were exacerbated by a "circular effect." Utility officials could not reach downed lines because the roads weren't clear - and county snowplows could not plow because of downed trees and lines. Hainey said the company has been working with the county to coordinate the response.

Montgomery Executive Isiah Leggett said the storm is the most difficult, prolonged problem he's encountered in his 32 years in county government.

"The biggest problem is about the power outages," Leggett said. Some families searched for alternative ways to heat their homes, with dangerous results.

Sunday, county firefighters found a family of eight in Burtonsville suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning after using a charcoal grill to warm their cold home. Fire Capt. Oscar Garcia said their symptoms did not appear to be life-threatening, but they were taken to a nearby hospital.

Keith Compton, chief of highway services for Montgomery County, said he did a helicopter fly-over Monday to assess the county's downed trees and road-clearing efforts.

He said his department is going all out, with a convoy of dump trucks ferrying salt back from Baltimore harbor to using hundreds of pieces of rented construction equipment.

While government budget worries are always there, he said, "these storms have such an economic impact, it's our job to clean it up and get the economy back on its feet."

In western Montgomery, where many neighborhoods were buried under nearly 3 feet of snow, the main roads were clear Monday, the secondary roads were passable but the local streets were mostly untouched by snowplows.

Mike McMillan watched a Ford dump truck with a plow come into his North Potomac neighborhood early Monday morning.

"He came in, pushed the corner and left," McMillan said as he finished digging out his driveway. "I think it was just too deep for him."

McMillan and his wife, Freda, were among thousands in the county to lose power Friday night. They were without power for about a day and are still without cable and Internet connections. A Verizon technician working in the neighborhood said that many of the cable boxes were clogged with snow, causing the units to overheat.

Freda McMillan, a teacher at a local elementary school, joked "that I'll be teaching until August."

In Howard, Ulman said the county has hired every piece of private digging and hauling equipment officials could locate, and both county school system and private Columbia Association vehicles are also being pressed into service to clear the streets. His prediction was that all residential streets would be cleared by Monday night.

Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.

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