FRANCONIA, Va. – A day after seeking refuge at shopping malls and movie theaters, hoping the lights would be back on when they returned, 3 million residents faced a grim reality Sunday: Stifling homes, spoiled food and a looming commute filled with knocked-out stoplights.
Two days after storms tore across the eastern U.S., power outages were forcing people to get creative to stay cool in dangerously hot weather. Temperatures approached 100 degrees in many storm-stricken areas, and utility officials said the power will likely be out for several more days.
If we don’t get power tonight, we’ll have to throw everything away, Susan Fritz, a mother of three, said grimly of her refrigerator and freezer. Fritz came to a library in Bethesda, Md., so her son could do school work. She charged her phone and iPad at her local gym.
On Sunday night, federal and state officials in the mid-Atlantic region gave many workers the option of staying home today to ease congestion on the roads. Federal agencies will be open in Washington, but non-emergency employees have the option of taking leave or working from home. Maryland’s governor also gave state workers wide leeway for staying out of the office.
The storm was blamed for 14 deaths, most from trees falling on homes and cars. Meanwhile, Coast Guard officials say they have suspended the search for a man who went missing early Saturday while boating during the storm off Maryland.
The bulk of the damage was in West Virginia, Washington and the capital’s Virginia and Maryland suburbs.
States worked to make sure the power stayed on at water treatment plants so that people at least had clean water. Chain-saws buzzed throughout neighborhoods as utility crews scrambled to untangle downed trees and power lines. Neighbors banded together.
Food, ice – we’re all sharing, said 51-year-old Elizabeth Knight, who lives in the blue-collar Richmond suburb of Lakeside.
The Friday evening storms, a meteorological phenomenon known as a derecho, moved quickly across the region with little warning. The straight-line winds were just as destructive as any hurricane – but when a tropical system strikes, officials usually have several days to get extra personnel in place. Not so this time.
Unlike a polite hurricane that gives you three days of warning, this storm gave us all the impact of a hurricane without any of the warning, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
National Guard troops were brought in to help in New Jersey and West Virginia. Crews had for the most part cleared debris from major roads, and signals were working in many major intersections. But officials still had much work to do on secondary roads.
The weather service said yet another round of thunderstorms was possible late Sunday and early today, threatening strong winds and hail.