A utility worker clears a downed tree in Springfield, Va., Sunday, July 1, 2012. A severe storm late Friday knocked out power to approximately one million residents, traffic signals and businesses in the region. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
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 Monday 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. At least six of the dead were killed in Virginia, including a 90-year-old woman asleep in her bed when a tree slammed into her home. Two young cousins in New Jersey were killed when a tree fell on their tent while camping. Two were killed in Maryland, one in Ohio, one in Kentucky and one in Washington.
From Atlanta to Baltimore, temperatures approached or exceeded triple digits. Atlanta set a record with a high of 105 degrees, while the temperature hit 99 at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport just outside the nation’s capital. With no air conditioning, officials urged residents to check on their elderly relatives and neighbors. It was tough to find a free pump at gas stations that did have power, and lines of cars snaked around fast-food drive-thrus.
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.
Power crews from as far away as Florida and Oklahoma were on their way to the mid-Atlantic region to help get the power back on and the air conditioners running again. Even if people have generators, the gas-run devices often don’t have enough power to operate an air conditioner.
And power restoration was spotty: Several people interviewed by The Associated Press said they remained without power even though the lights were on at neighbors’ homes across the street. In Maryland, Gov. O’Malley promised that he would push utility companies to get electricity restored as quickly as possible.
“No one will have his boot further up Pepco’s and BGE’s backsides than I will,” O’Malley said Sunday afternoon, referring to the two main utilities serving Maryland.
National Guard troops were brought in to help in New Jersey and West Virginia. Crews had for the most part cleared debris from major roadways, and signals were working in many major intersections. But officials still had much work to do on secondary roads.