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Icy limbs snap, down power lines

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Ice accumulations that broke hundreds of tree branches in Southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore left tens of thousands of homes without electricity and forced utility companies yesterday to call for extra repair crews from Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina.

And in an instant replay of previous mishaps, numerous roads were closed and a high volume of accidents were reported by area police last night as a freezing drizzle combined with sub-freezing temperatures to play havoc with traffic.

Most of the power outages were expected to be repaired by today, but full power may not be restored to some customers in some areas of Southern Maryland until tomorrow or Tuesday, said Jan Penn, of the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative.

During the day yesterday, most people in metropolitan Baltimore were happy to get out of their houses and apartments in warmer weather, to clean off cars, dig out parking spaces, and cram grocery stores, but many tumbled on ice and had to seek hospital treatment.

The beginning of the thaw yesterday also allowed Baltimore-Washington International Airport to reopen for air traffic and the Maryland Automobile Association to begin to catch up to stranded motorists.

A freezing drizzle, sub-freezing temperatures and, in some areas, patchy, dense fog, caused numerous roads to be closed last night.

Police reported a large number of accidents.

City police shut down the Jones Falls Expressway at all city exits in the northbound lanes and south from the 41st Street exit. A multicar accident in the northbound lanes just south of Cold Spring Lane about 8 p.m. was the first indication of trouble.

In Anne Arundel County, Ridge Road and Route 50 were closed at times because of icy conditions. Baltimore County police closed Sweet Air Road in the northern county, Belair Road at Bradshaw Road in Kingsville and I-83 south of Falls Road.

The Harford County Sheriff's Department reported a large number of accidents.

A spokesman for the Maryland State Police said that parts of U.S. 50 and Interstate 97, both in Anne Arundel County, were temporarily closed but reopened. He said trucks loaded with salt and slag were sent out last night.

Bridges, overpasses and elevated roadways were especially dangerous.

National Weather Service forecaster Richard Diener said a cold front moving across the state today should push out the TTC lingering drizzle, freezing rain and fog and replace it with clouds, a bit of sun and drier air.

Temperatures are expected to rise above freezing to as high as 38 degrees today in the central and eastern parts of the state.

Road conditions improved during the day yesterday, from treacherous to passable, and highway maintenance crews focused on clearing secondary streets. But weather forecasters were warning of slippery patches as freezing drizzle and fog lingered last night.

Tom Mullaney, a radio dispatcher with Baltimore's Department of Public Works, said that most secondary city roads were passable yesterday, except for a few trouble spots in such hilly areas as Hamilton and Mount Washington.

But the major weather-related headache was electricity -- or the lack of it.

"It's amazing. You walk through the woods and you hear the trees popping," said Douglas Sites at Choptank Electric Co., which provides electricity to 35,000 rural customers on the Eastern Shore.

Mr. Sites said 5,000 of those customers were still without power at noon yesterday. Most of them were concentrated around Cambridge and St. Michaels, in Dorchester and Talbot counties.

He and spokesmen for other utilities said that their crews were being run ragged by the unpredictability of tree branches falling.

Often, after repairs were made, other branches fell on lines nearby, forcing crews to return to areas several times.

State Police in Leonardtown said that half or more of residents in Calvert and St. Mary's counties were without power because of severe icing. Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative serves that area.

Jan Penn, spokeswoman for the cooperative, said 15,000 to 20,000 customers were without power in St. Mary's and Charles counties and lower Calvert County at 2 p.m. yesterday.

She said it would take until tomorrow or Tuesday to restore power to all customers if no more ice and snow falls before then.

Jay Mason, of the larger Delmarva Power and Light Co., said that 17,000 customers had no power at noon yesterday all over the Eastern Shore.

"It's a lot like chasing your tail," he said, describing the frustration of crews returning to the same areas after repeated line breaks.

Icy roads complicated repairs.

"Salisbury was an absolute sheet of glass," Mr. Mason said. Crews, including 20 crews from other states, were working 16 hours on, 8 hours off during the crisis, he said.

An emergency shelter set up at the Deale firehouse in southern Anne Arundel County served about 20 people from Wednesday to yesterday, said Battalion Chief Gary Sheckells. "We had people stop in for a few hours for warming and for food, but no one stayed overnight," he said.

People whose dogs wandered onto ice-covered waterways and broke through were the department's most frustrating problem, he said, because firefighters had to rescue the pets to keep their owners from going out on the ice.

Peggy Mulloy, of Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., said 11,600 customers were without power yesterday in southern Anne Arundel and Calvert counties, but the numbers kept changing.

"It was down to 5,000 two hours ago," she said at noon, "but a tree fell on a line and knocked out a whole development."

Officials at Baltimore area hospitals continued to report large numbers of patients seeking treatment yesterday after falling on ice.

"Ankles, ribs and wrists -- we have had quite a few breaks," said Debra Smith, coordinator at Anne Arundel General Hospital. "The ice is not partial to any age either."

"We are seeing a lot of slips and falls," said Dr. Horace Liang at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Lisa Wetzbarger, a nursing supervisor at Franklin Square Hospital, said the staff spent most of the day setting weather-related injuries -- mostly broken arms and legs.

After a daylong shutdown Friday, officials at BWI reported "everybody flying" yesterday.

After several frustrating days of limiting its response to customers stranded on highways or medical emergencies for much of the week, AAA of Maryland said it was able to offer light service at homes and on the road yesterday.

"We can take care of flats, hot shots and lockouts," said spokeswoman Karen Black. She said the volume of calls had increased slightly from Friday, but she anticipates calls for assistance tomorrow morning to be "extremely high."

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