Mid-Atlantic Storm Damage Prompts Federal, State Response

he devastating storm that raced from Ohio and along the mid-Atlantic knocking out power to more than 3 million people and killing at least 17 sparked state officials to declare states of emergencies as the massive cleanup continued.
by | July 2, 2012

The devastating storm that raced from Ohio and along the mid-Atlantic knocking out power to more than 3 million people and killing at least 17 sparked state officials to declare states of emergencies as the massive cleanup continued.

Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, and the District of Columbia have all declared official states of emergency with President Barack Obama offering federal assistance. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell authorized 300 National Guard members to help with recovery.

Obama has declared a federal emergency in Ohio after Gov. John Kasich asked for help. Kasich declared a state emergency and called out the National Guard. A second burst of thunderstorms on Sunday knocked out electricity for thousands more Ohioans, including some that had just had their power restored after being left in the dark earlier in the weekend, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

American Electric Power says storms on Sunday night left 20,000 Cleveland customers without electricity while crews worked to fix earlier outages. In all, about 423,000 customers remained without power early Monday morning in the southern two-thirds of the state as temperatures were expected to climb into the 90s.

McDonnell called it the largest non-hurricane power outage in state history. More than 250 Virginia roads are closed due to fallen trees, and power outages are expected to continue through the week. “It will take several days to restore all power so Virginians should plan accordingly. This is not a one day situation; it is a multi-day challenge,” said McDonnell in a statement.

These problems contributed to one of the biggest expected challenges: the Monday commute. Hundreds of traffic signals were out of service due to the power outages, and the downed trees on the roads created severe traffic problems. "If you have to drive or need to drive, leave yourself a lot of extra time," Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman Charlie Gischlar told USA Today. "There's going to be delays."

In order to address these challenges, school districts were closed and many government officials were allowed to stay home or telework. This eased the traffic issues, as commuters in the District of Columbia faced an easier than expected commute. In addition to lower traffic resulting from workers staying home, many people had already left the city on planned July 4 vacations.

However, it also means that both federal and state agencies in Maryland and government officials in Prince George’s County and Fairfax County are working in a limited capacity. This is, for the most part, limited to only non-essential employees however. D.C. government offices remain open.

This does not, however, include emergency operations. Emergency Operations Centers in the affected states have increased staffing, transportation crews are working to clear roads and other debris, and state police are assisting with traffic control and security.

That said, many businesses and households still suffered from power outages, with an estimated one in four customers remaining out of service on Monday. Pepco power officials plan to have 90 percent of power back on in Maryland by Friday, a schedule that County Executive Isiah Legget called, “unacceptable,” the Washington Post reported. Maryland Gov. O¬íMalley promised to get power back on as quickly as possible.

“We want to give people realistic expectations, but we are making progress” PEPCO spokeswoman Courtney Nogas told the Washington Post. “We do believe we will be able to move up that time.” Virginia estimated were more promising. Rodney Blevins, Dominion Power’s Vice President, estimated that 80 to 85 percent of Dominion customers in Virginia will have power back by Tuesday.

Another problem created by the power outages was the inability to receive emergency care. As of Sunday morning, Fairfax’s 911 service was disrupted, and people who could not reach it were urged to call alternate numbers. I don’t ever remember the 911 system going down, and it happened exactly at the time when we needed it most,” said Sharon Bulova (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, according to the Washington Post. “Why was there not a backup or something? That’s a question regional leaders will be focusing on with our state partners in the aftermath of the storm.”

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