Millions Without Power Following Irene

on August 28, 2011 at 8:00 PM

Utilities battled to restore power to millions of customers in the US northeast early Sunday after high winds and flooding from Hurricane Irene caused widespread outages.

By about 9 a.m. Sunday, four utilities covering parts of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington DC reported 1.48 million customers were without power after the storm toppled trees, knocking out local power lines.

Another 700,000 people served by four utilities in New Jersey had lost power by 5 a.m., according to Greg Reinert, a spokesman for the Board of Public Utilities, after the hurricane moved north through the mid-Atlantic region and hit New York City Sunday morning.

In Philadelphia and its suburbs, 297,000 PECO customers were without power Sunday morning and the number could rise later in the day as winds of up to 50 mph are expected to cause further damage to power lines from falling trees in the already-saturated ground, said spokeswoman Karen Muldoon Geus.

“We are very concerned that the numbers may rise,” she said.

Some 4,000 PECO staff are working to restore power but it could take as much as 10 days under a “worst-case scenario” before all customers are reconnected, Geus said.

At PPL Corp., which distributes power to 1.4 million customers in central and eastern Pennsylvania, 188,800 were without power, and the number was rising as the storm moved north through the region, said spokesman Kurt Blumenau.

The number of PPL outages was among the four or five highest during storms of the last 20 years, when it has taken up to five days to restore all customers, Blumenau said.

“This was a significant storm,” Blumenau said.

In Virginia and North Carolina, about 975,000 customers of Dominion Electric were without power at 8 a.m. The worst-affected areas included Norfolk and Richmond.

Delmarva Power & Light, which supplies about half a million customers in Delaware and the eastern shore of Maryland, reported 127,599 were without power early Sunday. Like other utilities, Delmarva was bringing in hundreds of workers from other areas of the country to restore power.

In a nine-county area surrounding Baltimore, 474,800 people were without power mid-morning Sunday and the number was expected to rise with continue high winds, according to Baltimore Gas & Electric spokeswoman Rachael Lighty. Another 110,000 who lost power during the storm had so far been restored, she said.

The number of outages made Irene one of the utility’s larger storms of recent years although the impact was not as great as with Hurricane Isabel in 2003 which knocked out power to some 700,000 customers, Lighty said.

Grid operator PJM Interconnection said some generating plants in the affected parts of its 13-state area had been forced to close or curtail output during the storm but that backup facilities had come on line, according to spokesman Ray Dotter, who declined to say which plants had gone down.

Photo Caption: A woman and a child sit on a public bench amongst floodwater on Rockway Beach after Hurricane Irene swept through the city, in New York, August 28, 2011.