It could take days to restore power to hundreds of thousands of people in and around Washington after a storm downed power lines and trees and left four people dead, officials said Monday.
The Sunday storm brought cooler weather to the Mid-Atlantic region, which has been through a nearly two-week heat wave, but also left widespread damage in Washington and its suburbs.
Power outages resulting from the storm affected more than 430,000 customers. Officials said they hadn't seen a similar outage since Hurricane Isabel in 2003, when flooding and fallen trees caused even more massive outages and some customers went a week or more without power.
On Monday, regional utility Pepco reported more than 232,000 customers were still without power in Washington and neighboring Maryland counties. Because the damage was so widespread, it was unclear when most people would get their power back, spokesman Bob Hainey said. Major power lines were down, electric poles were broken, and numerous transformers were damaged, he said.
Other electric companies in the region predicted power would be mostly restored by Monday or Tuesday night.
Four deaths in the region were blamed on the storm, two of them in Maryland.
Officials say 63-year-old Warren Douglas Smith was using a personal watercraft on the Chesapeake Bay and died after encountering severe winds and choppy seas while trying to get back to land. In Beltsville, Md., a tree crushed a minivan, killing 44-year-old driver Michelle Humanick and injuring her passenger, a woman in her 60s.
In Virginia, a 6-year-old boy also died after a large section of a tree fell on him while he was walking with his family. In Pennsylvania, police say a 53-year-old woman was apparently electrocuted by a fallen power line in her back yard.
Even as cleanup was going on, the power outages were causing disruptions. Numerous traffic signals were out. In Fairfax County, firefighters responded to 22 fires in the storm's aftermath, and nine car accidents were blamed on the storm. In Prince George's County, Md., darkened traffic signals caused about a dozen accidents.
In Washington, officials said there were more than 270 reports of fallen trees or very large limbs and parts of trees that caused damage. Fire department spokesman Pete Piringer said about half a dozen homes were significantly damaged by falling limbs, and 10 boats overturned in the rivers that border the city. Three cars caught fire as a result of downed power lines.
"The dust is settling, and we're extremely busy," Piringer said.
Mike Allen, 22, was in the attic of his mom's home in northwest Washington during the storm when he heard a loud boom. A three-story tall tree had fallen, uprooting a power pole, blocking the home's front entrance and opening a crack in an attic wall.
"There are a lot of streets in the neighborhood where a similar thing has happened," he said. "It's pretty wacky."
Bethesda, Md., resident Mei Zhang initially enjoyed looking at the storm before her power went out.
"The storm hit. The trees were swirling. It was an incredible show outside my window ... It reminded me of 'Wizard of Oz,'" she said.
Officials warned residents to be careful of downed lines as crews continued to restore power. Baltimore Gas & Electric said about 28,000 customers were without service Monday afternoon, though a total of 112,000 lost power as a result of the storm. The utility expected the majority of customers to have power restored by Tuesday evening. Dominion Virginia Power reported that 6,900 customers were still without power, down from 94,000. The power company said it expected to have most of the power back on by Monday at midnight.
Power also went out at more than a dozen Metro rail stations and heavy rain flooded one station, the transit agency said. Many generators were still in use Monday afternoon.
The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission said the storm also cut off power at its filtration plant that provides water for nearly 2 million people in suburban Maryland. Although power was restored Monday, mandatory restrictions on water use were still in place. Customers are not allowed to use any water outdoors — no car washing or lawn watering — and it is not clear when those restrictions might be lifted.
The National Weather Service said the storm was the result of a strong cold front pushing through the area. Officials were still out surveying the damage to determine the cause of all the damage, whether it was high winds or rain that did the damage.
Associated Press writers Nafeesa Syeed, Matthew Barakat and Lauren Sausser contributed to this report.
Eds: Corrects 6-year-old death in Virginia, not Maryland. Updates with additonal comment, edits to tighten.
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