Seven deaths tallied so far from heat, storms
Mayor, governor urge utilities to speed power restoration
Tony Sartori of Baltimore tries to stay cool. He has been without power since Friday's storm knocked out electricity all along Gittings Avenue and knocked a large tree onto his house. (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr. / June 25, 2012)
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Four people died of heat-related illnesses — two of them elderly Baltimore men — in the past week, state health officials said Monday. Another three died in Friday's storms, which meteorologists said were made more potent by the steamy air.
Elected leaders urged utilities to work quickly to restore power to BGE customers. Some of them might not see their electricity return until the weekend. As of 10 a.m., about 162,500 BGE customers were without power and about 516,500 had their power restored. Baltimore County had 54,600 homes and businesses without power, Baltimore had 47,500, Anne Arundel County had 31,400, Howard County had 9,650, Carroll County had 1,500 and Harford County had 355.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake criticized BGE for moving slower in the city than elsewhere in the state, putting elderly and poor residents at risk, while state health officials urged the restoration of power to 33 nursing homes still without it.
"We might be annoyed, frustrated and hot as heck. We can get over that," Rawlings-Blake said. "If we lose a vulnerable citizen because of this heat, we can't get over that."
The Maryland Public Service Commission intends to require BGE and other utilities to produce comprehensive reports by early August about their efforts to restore customers' power after the storm. Hearings will be held afterward, also likely in August — a requirement after major outages.
Headaches remain as crews work to clear roadways and restore power to hundreds of traffic signals. The storm also created some crimes of opportunity, with thefts of power generators reported at homes in Baltimore County and from streets in the city.
Two Baltimore men, ages 82 and 65, died Sunday, Baltimore Health Department spokesman Brian Schleter said. An elderly Wicomico County man and an adult Montgomery County man also died in recent days, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. No details on the circumstances surrounding the deaths were available, so it was unclear whether the deaths had anything to do with power outages.
Health officials had enacted a state heat emergency plan Friday, warning residents to be cautious of heatstroke and heat exhaustion as temperatures peaked at 106 degrees downtown and 103 degrees at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
On Sunday, Maryland Natural Resources Police recovered the body of a Virginia man in waters near Chesapeake Beach. Angel Giovani Ayala Cerros, 26, of Alexandria, was thrown from a small boat during Friday's storm. Four survivors on the 12-foot boat that capsized were rescued early Saturday morning by the Coast Guard.
Trees knocked down by winds approaching 70 mph killed two other people Friday night. Kevin Alan O'Brien, 25, of Edgewater was pronounced dead Friday night after a tree fell on his 2009 Ford Escape while he was traveling east in the 400 block of Harwood Road. A 71-year-old woman's body was found Saturday by fire personnel who responded to a downed tree on Grant Avenue in Silver Spring.
Others were thankful for their fortune in the face of the deadly storm.
As Tony Sartori sees it, Friday night could have gone a lot worse for the family. If Sartori's wife, Mary Garlington, had stood much longer in the bedroom of their Gittings Avenue house in North Baltimore, a gingko tree could have killed her as it smashed through a window and speared the closet door, Sartori said. Sartori had rushed his wife to the basement just minutes before the powerful storm broke.
"The way I looked at it, God gave us another chance," Sartori said. "God protected us. It wasn't our time."
BGE has been giving customers a broad estimate for when power will be back on — that work could extend to the weekend — but officials said they plan to get more specific as soon as possible.
"We don't want to overpromise and underdeliver," said Stephen Woerner, BGE's chief operating officer.
Crews from out-of-state utilities started arriving Monday and more are expected Tuesday. As BGE receives more assistance, officials will be able to give more precise estimates on when service can be restored, Woerner said.
The utility has more than 300 employees and contractors out in the field fixing problems with the overhead power system, Woerner said. Joining them are hundreds of out-of-state utility workers — their numbers rising from about 100 on Sunday to 900 by late Monday. BGE expects to have about 1,200 outside utility workers helping out by the end of Tuesday.
BGE spokesman Robert Gould said he understands customers' frustration with the vague estimates of when power will be restored. "But the reality is, there are so many variables that are outside our control," he said. Another storm Sunday night added more than 12,000 customers the outage list.