Intense winds have swept from Chicago to the east coast, kicking up storms and leaving millions without power. The thunderstorm, categorized by the title “derecho” has caused catastrophic damage to around 700 miles of the U.S. Over three million people were left without power. Overall, 26 people died as a result of the storm; many of the deaths were caused by the heat wave which followed the storm. Power is expected to be completely restored by Sunday night.
Possibly one of the most disturbing events caused by the storm is the breakdown of the 9-1-1 emergency hotline across northern Virginia. "Something as critical as 9-1-1 needs to have redundancy, needs to have backup," Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors said. With so many problems, people were left without the ability to gain assistance from emergency outlets, leaving them susceptible to danger of many sorts. The magnitude of the storm has caused the Washington Area Council of Governments to look into improving the system.
Running water—another necessity lost during the storm—was scarce for the first day or two of the outage when it was reported that water supply companies had also lost power. “I'm lucky I didn't lose power, but I lost water this past Saturday,” Mike Lurie from the University of Maryland Baltimore County said. “My family already had water bottles in the garage, so that’s what we drank. When we noticed the water going out, we collected water from the sinks and put some in a Brita filter and some in a pot to use for cleaning and stuff.”
Radio stations have been the only source of information for many without power. Washington D.C News, Traffic and Weather radio station (WTOP) advised everyone to find “cooling centers” near them to beat the heat while waiting for power to be restored.
Heeding this advice, I headed to my local library the fourth day without power. I was shocked by the extent of the damage. Many neighborhood streets are not even passable while walking. Power lines are down and mangled by fallen tree branches, debris liters the streets and sidewalks while many intersections remain dark.
PEPCO, Potomac Electric Power Company, trucks finally surveyed the damage around my street this Fourth of July but the situation in my neighborhood remains unchanged. I am hopeful but not too optimistic that power will be restored by the end of today, the seventh day of the outage.
Power companies claim that they are doing all they can. They have called for help from places as far away as Texas and Canada, since neighboring states are in the same position. Emergency work crews arrived from these states Monday to aid the local crews. Many people had their power back after about four days but hundred of thousands were left in the dark and sweltering heat.
PEPCO’s official statement is that about 90 percent of power should be restored by 11 p.m. on July 6. However that goal still leaves about 50,000 customers without power. Other companies have been non-committal to any official timeline. Montgomery County Executive Isaiah Leggett finds this plan unacceptable. “Having our citizens having to go through seven days without utilities is not in my opinion the kind of level of services that we should expect,” Leggett said.
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley urged citizens to look out for each other and especially the elderly still without power. O’Mally announced that, “tragically, we have already lost seven Marylanders as a result of this violent storm–most of which are heat-related deaths." However, he remains optimistic about the progress being made.
“Best way to find out how dependent we are on electricity?” said Iris Kwok of UMBC, “Have a blackout.”