After a long weekend without power, thousands of Baltimore-area utility customers may finally be able to come out of the cold and dark today.
Power was expected to be restored early today to most of the 10,000 customers who have been without service since Thursday night's ice storms, said Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman Brenda Pettigrew.
That figure, as of midnight, was down from 29,000 earlier in the day.
Most of the remaining outages were in Howard, Carroll and Baltimore counties, forcing customers to line up for dry ice, book hotel rooms, stay with relatives, crowd into restaurants -- and wait in frustration for their lights and heat to come back on.
In Montgomery County, a fire and multiple explosions yesterday at a Potomac Electric Power Co. substation in Olney resulted in the loss of eight substations and knocked out electricity to an estimated 70,000 homes and businesses.
Montgomery County Fire Department Capt. Dan Gilman said the explosions created a 200-foot-high tower of smoke that was visible for miles.
PEPCO crews had been working to restore power to 43,000 customers left without service because of the storm when the fire broke out about 4: 30 p.m. at the Norbeck substation on Emory Lane in Olney, said Makini Street, a PEPCO spokeswoman.
The fire was caused by the failure of a circuit breaker and was put out within an hour, Street said. No injuries were reported.
By early yesterday evening, four of the substations were back in operation and power had been restored to about a third of the customers who had lost service because of the fire.
The utility said it hoped to have power restored overnight to the rest of the customers.
In the Baltimore area, utility officials blamed the time required to restore service on the severity of last week's storm and the ice that it left behind, which snapped trees, poles and power lines throughout the state.
"It just created a lot of damage systemwide," Pettigrew said.
Pettigrew said BGE would continue to distribute dry ice today and use 180 repair technicians from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware utilities.
Dry ice distributed
BGE gave out 250,000 pounds of dry ice between Friday afternoon and yesterday, she said.
But that was little comfort to those who sat in dark, cold homes yesterday.
"We thought power would be back on by now, so we've been staying home," said Chris Rigger, who came to The Mall in Columbia yesterday to pick up two 10-pound bags of dry ice to keep her freezer chilled.
Rigger, who lives in the Ellicott City community of Mount Hebron, said she has been showering at a neighbor's house since Friday morning.
"My neighbors have power, but we don't," Rigger said. "We're apparently right at the cutoff line between one power line and the next."
"From the amount of damage, this is the worst storm we've seen in a number of years. It's all tree damage," said Franklin T. Bosley, part of a four-member crew of BGE technicians who replaced a 40-foot pole yesterday in the 1300 block of Underwood Road in Howard County near Sykesville.
BGE officials said that when the 40-foot pole toppled Friday, it knocked out power to 156 customers in the Sykesville area.
Many of those customers said yesterday that life without electricity was both a challenge and a bore.
"We've had a couple of ice storms over the years, but never anything like this," said Bill Freed, a purchasing manager who has lived on nearby Barberry Way for 15 years.
Freed has been using a wood-burning stove for cooking and heating. He has been showering at a hotel room that his daughter rented.
"It's been a challenge, but not a major problem," he said, as he sat on his bicycle, watching Bosley and the BGE crew replace the pole. "You just learn to deal with it."
A few blocks north, one of Freed's neighbors said that she put her arthritic husband in a hotel Friday night. But he came home Saturday because he didn't like the bed.
With a weary smile she refused to give her name. "I don't want people to know I haven't showered in three days," she said.
Michael Ashley, another neighbor, said the worst part is not knowing when power might be restored.
'It drives you crazy'
"Nobody at BGE can tell you if it's going to be a day, if it's going to be two days, or three days. It drives you crazy," said Ashley, 45, a construction industry sales representative.
BGE officials said part of the problem is that many downed poles and lines are in isolated communities that serve a relatively small number of homes and that there is no way to know how much time it will take to restore service in those communities.
Ashley figured that he lost about $20 worth of food in his freezer since power went out Friday. He sent his wife and children to his sister's house in Pennsylvania, but stayed behind to keep an eye on the house and feed their three cats.
"We can't send them to any of the neighbors because none of the neighbors have power," Ashley said.
A few doors down the street, Ivan and Bessie Sutton said they've turned down offers to stay with their children and slept in their own chilly home on Forsythe Road Friday and Saturday night.
"It's boring, that's the main thing," said Mrs. Sutton.
The Suttons bought a portable radio Saturday at Kmart to listen to the news -- and spent a lot of time eating out.
"We've been going out to breakfast, and going out to lunch, and going out to keep warm," Mrs. Sutton said.
But the Suttons haven't had to use their fireplace.
"We're just lucky that it hasn't been that cold," said Ivan Sutton, a retired Howard County schoolteacher.
When they ventured out Saturday, they found a 90-minute wait for dry ice at a BGE distribution center in Sykesville and 50 people waiting for a table at the first restaurant they entered.
"We just went somewhere else," said Mr. Sutton.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Pub Date: 1/18/99