For utilities, heavy snowfall means heavy work

Despite the best efforts of more than 1,100 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. workers, some of whom trudged through 3-foot drifts and climbed poles in the driving snow, about 20,000 residents of the region remained without power Saturday night.

During the storm, nearly 180,000 Maryland homes and businesses were without power, most of them in Montgomery County. Utility company representatives said most of the outages were caused by tree branches breaking under the weight of heavy snow and bringing down lines.

Few secondary roads were plowed when BGE service operator Dave Himlin headed toward Canton on his first call of the day at 7 a.m., and he couldn't get close to the green electrical equipment box with the problem. He walked through more than 2 feet of snow for blocks, then searched for a box.

"We sort of poked around with a stick," said Himlin, adding that they used GPS to locate it and fix the problem, restoring power to 386 customers.

Then they moved on to Banger Street in Southwest Baltimore, where the road was blocked by a car that had gotten stuck.

"We parked our truck, got out, walked a block and a half to assess the damage. We were in about 3 feet of snow," he said.

They found it impossible to get to the pole and left frustrated, but probably not as frustrated as the customers, Himlin said.

Tom Allen, who lives in Scaggsville in southern Howard County, awoke at 5 a.m. to find the electricity off.

"My wife took all the things out of the refrigerator and stuck them in the front yard," he said.

While his wife and little girl spent the day under blankets in the living room, Allen was shoveling snow for four hours with his neighbors, figuring that his neighborhood wouldn't see plows for days and that he might need to take his wife and child to a warm place. He was interrupted only by a request from his wife that he dig through the snow in the yard for the bologna.

"The house got down to 63 degrees. It has been a cold morning," he said.

Just as hard, he said, was the feeling of being cut off from the world. No Internet and no television meant that they couldn't find out what was happening beyond their neighborhood.

"Felt like we were in the Dark Ages," he said.

But electricity was restored in the afternoon, and his family was getting warm.

Across the region, crews had restored power to more than 63,300 customers by Saturday evening, but outages persisted in Anne Arundel County which had 7,454 customers without electricity. In Baltimore County, 5,465 homes and businesses were without power; the city had less than 2,400. In Maryland suburbs of Washington, 92,000 Pepco customers were without power Saturday.

About 850 BGE workers battled blowing snow to get the lights back on, and 300 workers arrived Saturday from Tennessee and Kentucky, with another contingent headed to Maryland from Ohio.

Himlin was working a 12-hour shift Saturday on his eighth straight day of work, but he said he wasn't complaining. People they had met on the street had greeted them warmly.

"Everybody has had a lot of compassion for us," he said. "They are very understanding of what we are going through."

Himlin said it's hard, though, for BGE workers who are out on the streets all day and then return to a home without power.

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