Reporting Denise Koch
GARRETT COUNTY, Md. (WJZ/AP) — It wasn’t rain and wind but three feet of snow that’s left much of Western Maryland crippled. In Garrett County, 70 percent of people still have no power with temperatures in the low 30s Thursday night.
Denise Koch has more.
Gov. Martin O’Malley focused resources Thursday on restoring electricity and checking on snowbound residents suffering their fourth day without power after a blizzard spawned by Superstorm Sandy buried Western Maryland’s mountains under snow.
About 15,000 homes and businesses, comprising nearly 70 percent of the county’s electricity customers, lacked power Thursday afternoon, Potomac Edison said. Linesmen may not get the power fully restored until next week, the company said.
The governor helicoptered into that hard-hit community where frustration is growing.
As Sandy made its way up the East Coast, Garrett County– at the foot of the Appalacian Mountains– got hit hard by blizzard-like conditions.
O’Malley told local elected officials at a meeting near Oakland that the Maryland Emergency Management Agency had set up temporary headquarters in the county to manage the response to the area’s most devastating storm in 38 years.
“My whole state’s now Garrett County,” he said. “We will do whatever it takes to get you all back up on your feet.”
Floodwaters have receded and repairs have begun in other parts of the state damaged by the ferocious storm but much of Garrett County, 160 miles west of Baltimore, remained frozen by tree-blocked roads and the lack of power.
Larry Lewis, general roads foreman at the county garage in the tiny town of Accident, said his crews hadn’t been able to clear fallen trees from many roads because downed power lines also were on the highway.
“No electric for a lot of people up here, lot of downed trees, lot of downed power lines,” one resident said.
“I’ve never seen anything like this and I have been here my whole life,” Donna Bailey said.
The crews had to get safety clearance from Potomac Edison before the trees could be moved. But Potomac Edison said it couldn’t get to some of its downed lines until the roads were cleared. Officials moved to resolve that chicken-or-egg dilemma Thursday by sending linesmen out with the road crews.
“That’ll help us get out and about, and it just makes things a lot more accessible for us,” Potomac Edison spokesman Todd Meyers said.
He said low clouds, snow showers and strong winds prevented the company from surveying the line damage by helicopter Thursday.
“The primary focus of county efforts is to work to have roads open by the weekend,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said.
Neighborhoods buried under three feet of snow. O’Malley visited a Garrett County shelter to assess the damage.
“Our primary concern is for senior citizens who have been living alone and surviving on their own, oftentimes trapped, for the last three days,” he said.
Garrett County road workers got help Thursday from the National Guard, the State Highway Administration, neighboring Allegany County and about 35 volunteers from Mennonite Disaster Services, based in Akron, Pa.
Power was restored by Thursday to parts of Oakland, the county seat, and McHenry, the commercial center of the Deep Creek Lake resort area.
Firefly Farms, an artisanal cheesemaker in Accident, has lost money on cheese it would have shipped Monday through Wednesday to markets in Baltimore and Washington, operations director Matt Cedro said.
“Basically, we lost one-fourth of our month’s sales, almost, just because we can’t do it,” he said. “We don’t have computers, we don’t have printers, we don’t have any way to get it together, ship through UPS.”
He said six or seven workers hourly workers have lost income because of the shutdown. And the company’s milk suppliers may have to dump milk for which Firefly Farms has no storage capacity.
Fortunately, most of the cheese in stock can keep comfortably in the building’s cool temperature near 50 degrees, he said.
The power outage forced the Savage River Lodge near Frostburg to cancel weekend reservations for all 18 cabins because the units won’t have electricity, co-owner Jan Russell said.
“We had some people coming and staying the whole week. It’s a big chunk of money we’re going to lose,” she said.
Russell said she doesn’t fault Potomac Edison for not restoring the power sooner.
“I think they’ve got just an overwhelming amount to handle,” she said. “I know that everybody’s hounding them.”
“I was nervous all day Tuesday. I was a nervous wreck when I come in here,” Bonnie Mahaffey.
“The folks who are here are the ones who have been able to make it to the shelter, and we are providing them with food and resources until they get their power back up in their residences,” Alicia Streets of the Department of Social Services said.
In Baltimore City, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake visits first responders from Baltimore’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Team headed to Garrett County to help.
“We’re hearing there’s no communication with a lot of folks, roads are completely blocked and they haven’t been able to gain access to them at all,” Scott Meback of the USAR team said.
At least seven percent of Garrett County’s roads are inaccessible, creating a headache for crews trying to restore power to more than 15,000 homes.
Kevin Green runs a gas station and convenience store. Without power, he can’t run the gas pumps or the store.
“We’re losing a lot of business, and we got a lot of local charges and people charge here everyday. And we’re losing them too, you know,” Green said.
“Without question, the people of Garrett County are hurting, and they need help wherever they can get it,” O’Malley said.
Almost 10 percent of Garrett County’s roads are still inaccessible. The county’s main focus is to have them all reopened by this weekend.
For residents still without power, remember to use generators outdoors to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Elsewhere, schools in hard-hit Crisfield won’t reopen this week, said Mayor Percy J. Purnell Jr.
A shelter at Washington High School in Princess Anne, where many Crisfield residents were taken, closed Thursday. Fewer than 20 people who still needed housing were moved to a new shelter at the civic center in Princess Anne.
Somerset County Emergency Services Director Steven Marshall said about half of the 300 subsidized housing units in Crisfield were damaged. He said portable trailers with showers, washers and dryers have been ordered for use by those who lost water and power.
The Maryland Emergency Management Agency said there were about 45 people in shelters across Maryland, including those in Crisfield. The rest were scattered among three shelters in Garrett and western Allegany counties.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)