CRISFIELD, Md. (AP) — A powerful storm combination that socked the Mid-Atlantic from the mountains to the ocean cleared out Wednesday as blue skies replaced drenching rains, mass transit systems resumed full operations and power came back on for thousands of state residents.
Though the effects of the storm lingered in snowy western Maryland and the water-logged Eastern shore, there was wide consensus that the state had escaped the brunt of a monstrous storm system that ravaged parts of New Jersey and New York.
“We dodged a cannonball for the most part,” said Gov. Martin O’Malley, who visited a damaged dock and hospital in Crisfield, a lower Eastern Shore community that sustained its worst flooding since at least 1985.
The aftermath of the hybrid storm was felt most acutely in western Maryland, where residents were digging out from a blizzard that dumped more than two feet of snow, and in shore communities like Crisfield, where surging water forced two caskets out of their graves, flooded out houses and triggered the evacuation of dozens of residents. There were a few casualties too, including a contractor killed in Annapolis Wednesday afternoon when a tree fell on him as he was working at a home.
Power outage totals, though vast in some pockets of the state, paled next to the numbers that accompanied massive windstorms last June and utilities said they were making good progress in restoring service. Popular summer resort communities like Bethany Beach, Del., were inundated with water but skirted devastating damage.
And even as officials in Washington fretted about potential flooding along the Potomac River and its tributaries, the nation’s capital regained its normal weekday bustle Wednesday: Commuters jammed subway cars for the rush-hour morning commute, the popular Smithsonian Institution museums reopened and food trucks occupied their normal spots along city parks.
“I was surprised that everything shut down the way that it did,” said Tatiana Hernandez, a freelance American Sign Language and Spanish interpreter who was trying to make up for two days of lost work. “We could have gone to work at least half of the day on Monday.”
The biggest concern, region-wide, remained power outages, as more than 77,000 residents were without electricity Wednesday evening. In snow-covered Garrett County, where nearly eight customers in 10 have lost power, the electricity won’t be fully restored until sometime next week, Potomac Edison spokesman Todd Myers said.
That’s a problem for Lawrence “Jinx” Layton, owner of Jinx’s Garage, a two-stall automotive repair shop next to his house in unincorporated Finzel. He and his brother down the road are taking turns using a generator to run their refrigerators. The only light in his dim shop comes through the windows.
“I’ve got work but I can’t do a whole lot because it’s in under the hood, and you can’t see too good,” he said. “I’d sooner save my food than run a light.”
The utilities, already scrutinized for their response to sudden windstorms over the summer that knocked out power for days to hundreds of thousands of customers, trumpeted better results this time around — a reflection, they said, of intense preparation and a less severe storm than anticipated.
Baltimore Gas and Electric had restored power to more than 300,000 customers by Wednesday afternoon but still had more than 38,000 out. Pepco, which serves the District of Columbia and part of Maryland, said it had restored power to roughly 95 percent of customers. More than 32,000 western Maryland residents were still in the dark, as were more than 5,000 Delmarva Power customers — including about 1,900 in the Delaware counties of Sussex, Kent and New Castle.
Danville Roach, 71, of Takoma Park, Md., lost power for at least three days after last summer’s storm, but was luckier this week when his electricity stayed on.
“I thought I was going to (lose my power) because I had my generator ready to go,” Roach said. “I had my fingers crossed until the storm passed. I was on pins and needles, hoping that the power didn’t go away.”
BGE, which serves more than 1.2 million electric customers, requested 3,000 out-of-state-workers in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy — about three times as many as it would normally seek out for storm, spokesman Robert L. Gould said. Pepco also enlisted out-of-state crews and tracked the storm carefully as it moved up the coast from the Caribbean, using last summer’s sudden storm as a reminder about the importance of preparation.
“It stressed the need for that, and we took full advantage of that for Hurricane Sandy. We were watching, monitoring the storm,” Pepco spokesman Bob Hainey said.
The damage could have been much worse given the daunting precipitation totals and the diverse weather impact, from heavy rain to snow, that smacked the state. Easton recorded the highest rainfall totals anywhere at 12.55 inches, while Redhouse, in Garrett County, had 29 inches of snow.
O’Malley said the state had prepared for a storm of Sandy’s magnitude and that officials do more drills now than ever before.
“In fact, it looked like one of our scenarios where sometimes we laugh at the various factors that the planners throw in to these scenarios with the blizzard in the west, the flooding here, the tidal surge in Crisfield and the waves crashing on Ocean City and the winds knocking down power lines up in the northeast part of our state. But that’s what happens in these events,” he said.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)