BGE works to restore power to thousands of residents

BGE workers at the intersection of Ft. Smallwood Road and Hilltop Road repair lines the day after Sandy hit the region.

Dale Lucas' horse farm in Baltimore County lost power during Hurricane Irene last year. It lost power for six days when the derecho blew through in June. And it lost power again Monday night.

Losing electricity has become such a problem for the 22-horse boarding facility that Lucas went out at first light Tuesday to try to resolve the issue himself. He found crossed power lines and a blown breaker — problems he couldn't fix himself but could at least point out to the power company.


Lucas was far from alone in his plight, but on the whole superstorm Sandy didn't deliver as big a whammy as expected.

For all the dire warnings — and given the damage in New York and New Jersey — the post-tropical cyclone formerly known as Hurricane Sandy robbed far fewer Baltimore-area residents of electricity than the last two big storms here.


About 338,000 customers in Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s territory lost power during the storm, compared with about 750,000 each during Irene last year and this June's violent derecho windstorm.

It was a relief to residents across the Baltimore region.

"I thought for sure I was going to wake up this morning in the dark, but no," said Susann Schemm, a Baltimore resident who lost power for eight days after the June storm but not at all this time. "It was like, 'Eureka, we got through!'"

BGE made steady progress Tuesday, restoring power to those who weren't as fortunate as Schemm. The power company brought in nearly 1,900 out-of-town utility workers to help restore power and, as of 8:15 a.m. Wednesday, around 84,000 remained without power.

Help couldn't come soon enough for Northeast Baltimore resident Michael Gardner Sr. The area was one of the hardest-hit locally, according to BGE maps.

Gardner was getting his 18-month-old twin grandchildren ready for bed when the power at his Kirk Avenue home went out at 6 p.m. Monday. He had to use his cousin's van to plug in a nebulizer that one of the toddlers needs to relieve his asthma.

By Tuesday afternoon, still without power, Gardner was getting a little antsy. He'd set up a makeshift play area with flashlights to occupy his grandkids and 13-year-old son. He looked at two utility trucks parked a block from his house and wondered why no work had begun yet on the power lines.

"Everybody in this neighborhood is craving power," he said.


BGE officials warned that it would take time to reach everybody and that new outages could complicate efforts as tree limbs weakened by the storm continued to fall onto power lines over the next several days.

While they didn't play down the severity of the storm, BGE and weather officials said several factors may have contributed to less damage than anticipated.

Sandy didn't linger in the Baltimore area as long as meteorologists had expected. Wind speeds eased up, allowing linemen to work to restore power earlier, said Bob Johnson, director of emergency preparedness for Chicago's Commonwealth Edison Co., which had a 114-person team in Baltimore.

Also, many trees had already shed most of their leaves, leaving lighter branches that were less likely to break, some meteorologists theorized.

Douglas R.M. Nazarian, chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission, said Sandy was a significant storm but not as fearsome as expected.

"The storm ended up moving a lot more quickly than we had feared," he said. "The forecast was that it was going to come in very slowly, it was going to hang out over the city and just continue to batter us for hours. The National Weather Service … said it was going to sit on top of us, just pummel us, for 24, 36 hours. That ended up not happening."


Pepco has estimated that 90 percent of its customers with outages would be back on by 8 a.m. Wednesday, Nazarian said. Delmarva Power, which serves the Eastern Shore, expects to get to the same point by the end of Wednesday, he said.

BGE, which serves a more populous territory and more outages, hasn't given an estimate yet and says it doesn't expect to until late Wednesday or Thursday, after workers can fully assess the damage to the system.

BGE spokesman Rob Gould said it's hard to say why the derecho caused more outages than Sandy, he said. But, he added, the difference may be related to the storms' trajectories and the different seasons. The derecho cut a tighter path through the region, and in June the trees were in full leaf.

Snow in Western Maryland is complicating efforts by Potomac Edison to get the lights back on for customers there, Nazarian said.

Shamel Richardson had lost patience with her dark rowhouse in Baltimore Tuesday afternoon. She was watching music videos, eating and talking on the phone when the power went off in her Carswell Street home at 6 p.m. Monday.

The fast-food worker tried to stick it out with no power but ended up staying with a friend. On Tuesday she was back home picking up some necessities because there still was no power.


"I am not just going to sit around in the dark," she said.

In the Lutherville neighborhood of Orchard Hills Tuesday, crews worked to repair lines but did not know how long power restoration would take.

Karen Marcellino and her son were watching a squirrel eat a nut when a tree fell in their backyard around 5 p.m. Monday., taking down all the wires and hitting their neighbor's shed.

The family lost power during the summer derecho storm for about week but has a generator, said Marcellino, whose husband, Joseph, is a high-voltage electrician for the state.

"Right now, I'm just grateful everyone's here to help us," Marcellino said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Alison Knezevich contributed to this report.