Coping with second day of no electricity frustrates many

Baltimore City Housing Authority workers George Kirk, left, and Anthony Graves stack free bags of ice to be given away at the Northwood Plaza shopping center.
Baltimore City Housing Authority workers George Kirk, left, and Anthony Graves stack free bags of ice to be given away at the Northwood Plaza shopping center. (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy Davis)

Pat Johnston, like many Baltimore residents, was fuming Sunday as she faced another day without electricity. Describing her frustration level, she said, "On a scale out of 10, I'm at 11.2. 

"You can't get through to find out [when power is likely to return]," Johnston, a 73-year-old nurse, added from the porch of her home in the Rosebank neighborhood in hard-hit North Baltimore. "Our computers are totally out of electricity because the batteries ran out. I haven't been out driving around, but my sister has, and she says it's terrible."

Two days after ferocious thunderstorms ripped through the area, the frustrations of a second scorching afternoon without air conditioning were rising with the temperature. Residents complained about the inability to get information fromBaltimore Gas and Electric Co., having to throw out hundreds of dollars' worth of food and deal with intersections where traffic signals were not working.

Retiree Barbara Sands, 71, said she had to take her daughter, who has muscular dystrophy and couldn't tolerate the extreme heat, to stay a hotel in Timonium. We didn't see one see one BGE truck … not one stinking truck," she said.

Some were concerned about how they would do their jobs come Monday.

"I'm frustrated because I don't know what I am going to do, and I work from home. I have no Internet. I have a big project due [Monday]," said Marie Hergenroeder, 59, of North Roland Park, a sales director for a publishing house, as she and her sister, with whom she was staying, were leaving the Charles Theatre after seeing a movie. She figured she would find a place to work.

But other area residents calmly said they'd sweat and cope — or, like Hergenroeder, take a relative up on the offer of an air-conditioned home.

"I'm just going to take this in stride," said Dr. Mark Saba, a 42-year-old physician and neighbor of Johnston's, who said he saw an opportunity for the annual cleaning of his family's freezer. He and his wife and daughters were bound for a friend's home.

"We've got some good food, lobster tails that have to be eaten. We get AC, they get lobster tails," he said.

North Baltimore was walloped particularly hard, with downed limbs and uprooted trees,

Sharmalita Christian and her family, of the Chinquapin Park-Belvedere area, spent much of the weekend barbecuing. With the better part of a pig that relatives had butchered and given her only days ago joining what was already in the freezer, she had a lot of meat thawing.

"In the last two days? Ten, 15 pork chops, three packages of hot dogs, pork loin roasts, and I have more meat. I have chicken," she said Sunday afternoon — and that was with more pork chops, brisket, hot dogs and breakfast sausage on the grill.

She had sat, fuming, in traffic to bring some of it to family members Saturday, saying she waited more than a half-hour at some intersections to make a left turn because oncoming traffic didn't stop where traffic lights were out.

"You pull out, and cars aren't stopping," Bob Pemberton, 56, a retired Baltimore County police sergeant said of his efforts to get onto Northern Parkway from southbound Interstate 83. "It's kind of scary. They go right through the intersection."

The complaints that BGE isn't wasn't working fast enough are not new to the utility. Workers, who downed water and Gatorade in between covering themselves in rubber safety gear and reaching the tops of utility poles in bucket trucks, said they understand customers' frustrations but also hope customers know they're doing their best.

"We just take it in stride. We hear it all the time. We try to assure them that we are working as hard we can to get everything done," said Brian Cargo, a 22-year veteran of the company who on Sunday was in his second 16-hour workday supervising BGE linemen.

The crew was trying to restore power to more than 350 customers in Christian's area. With electric lines forming a web of service, what happens on one wire on one pole affects the next one and beyond. The extent of what's needed to get the power back up can be a mystery until crews are at the scene.

"This is the worst I've seen since Hurricane Irene, and that damage was done over 12, 18 hours. This damage was done in less than an hour," Cargo said.

At midmorning, after restoring power to about 150 homes, workers grounded the wires at one pole. They then headed to another nearby, where the bar holding wires was broken by a tree limb — but which couldn't be worked on until the first one was safe. That one repaired in an hour, the crew reattached wires to a house on the corner before returning to the first pole. There, they started to bring power up again. But there was a pop and puff of smoke. Cargo shook his head.

BGE spokesman Robert Gould said 1,300 employees were called in to work Sunday and another 900 workers from Quebec to Florida were on their way, with most of those expected Monday.

Nevertheless, "the restoration effort will extend into this coming weekend," he said, explaining that experience has shown that customers want to be given prediction that will hold, instead of being disappointed by estimates that turn out to have been optimistic.

One thing was clear: People who were into camping were well-prepared. By midday Sunday, Terry Hundertmark of Chinquapin Park-Belvedere had used a converter for her car and charged "nine cellphones, two laptops, and one DVD player" for neighbors..

Aileen Johnson, 88, said having grown up without air conditioning, she's always got a stash of batteries and lots of ice on hand, and relaxes in the shade.

"Country people can survive because we grew up that way," she said as she watched the BGE workers in her Chinquapin Park neighborhood.

But that doesn't mean they don't want the lights on again.

"Hey! Thank you! Happy to see you," she called out to the work crew.


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