Storms cause power outages

August 29, 2003|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

Thousands of Washington County residents are still without electricity today after thunderstorms swept through the Tri-State area Tuesday afternoon, downing trees and power lines.

More than 8,825 Allegheny Energy customers - including 2,615 in Washington County - were still without power as of 9 a.m. today, spokesman Allen Staggers said.

Staggers said crews anticipated restoring power to most of those customers by midnight tonight. However, he said some customers may be without power for a second night.


The storm caused a lot of damage, especially closer to Frederick and Montgomery counties, Staggers said. Besides having lines down, some utility poles and crossarms from utility poles were broken, he said.

Allegheny customers without power this morning included 7,200 in Washington, Frederick and Montgomery counties, 1,085 in the Martinsburg, W.Va., area, 440 in the Berkeley Springs, W.Va., area and 100 in the McConnellsburg, Pa., area, Staggers said.

Power was restored by around 8 a.m. to 700 customers in the Waynesboro, Pa., area, Staggers said.

Power also was restored to 3,300 customers in Washington County, more than 11,000 customers in Frederick County, more than 4,000 customers in the Martinsburg area, more than 3,200 customers in the Berkeley Springs area and 1,400 customers in the McConnellsburg area, he said.

Approximately 500 Hagerstown Light Department customers in the Prospect Avenue area were without power for 90 minutes until 5:15 p.m. Tuesday because lightning cut a line in half on that street, said Dave Burgan, distribution superintendent.

The storm moved into the Hagerstown area at about 3:30 p.m., dropping nearly an inch of rain in some areas. Lightning struck a Clear Spring house and downed trees hit two Boonsboro residences, according to emergency officials.

At one point Tuesday, more than 36,000 Allegheny Power customers in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania were without power, Allegheny Power spokeswoman Debbie Beck said.

Beck said restoring services to everyone was a difficult job because of the wide area affected.

A storm caused problems earlier Tuesday in Jefferson County, W.Va.

Lightning knocked out the radio system at the West Virginia State Police headquarters in Bardane, W.Va., at about 10:30 a.m., according to 1st Sgt. Deke Walker. It was believed the radio service was disrupted when lightning struck a radio tower in back of the building or the barracks itself, Walker said.

Radio transmissions were temporarily handled out of the state police barracks in Martinsburg, W.Va., Walker said. Radio service was back in operation late Tuesday afternoon, police said.

When the second storm hit in the afternoon, trees fell on power lines across Jefferson County, emergency dispatchers said.

Arcing lines fell in front of a day-care center on Cheney Street in Bolivar, W.Va., according to a Friendship Fire Co. spokesman. Firefighters escorted parents past the lines and into the building so they could safely get their children, the spokesman said.

Four people were floating in inner tubes on the Shenandoah River when the storm struck, according to Lenny Lehman, ambulance chief for the Blue Ridge Fire Co. One of the tubers got stuck on a rock near the Bloomery Bridge but was helped to the edge of the river by a whitewater rafting crew, Lehman said.

During the afternoon storm, lighting struck at 14437 Hicksville Road in Clear Spring. No injuries or fires were reported as a result of the strike, according to Washington County Emergency Services dispatcher Scott Wolff.

Heavy wind knocked trees onto houses at 20111 Marble Quarry Road and 6234 Appletown Road, both in Boonsboro, Wolff said.

There were wires down in nearly every part of the county, "from Hancock to Boonsboro," but no reports of injuries, Wolff said.

"We had about 50 calls all at one time," Wolff said.

Local weather observers said .82 of an inch of rain fell in Hagerstown, .56 of an inch in Martinsburg and .90 of an inch in Waynesboro, Pa.

Weather observer Pat McCusker of Clear Spring said wind gusts reached 62 mph Tuesday. He reported 0.85 inches of rain there.

McCusker said a bolt of lightning hit his weather station, destroying about half of it.

Tuesday's storm could pose a health hazard to farm animals, warned Don Schwartz, Washington County agriculture and natural resources Extension agent.

"If there are cherry trees down, or branches or leaves ripped from branches due to high winds, the leaves could be toxic to all animals," Schwartz said this morning.

Cherry leaves, while still damp, contain cyanide, Schwartz said.

"Once the leaves dry and become crispy, the toxic agent is gone and they're safe," he explained. "But in the period while they are wilting, before they're perfectly dry, they are toxic to animals. So please check your pasture fields."

Staff writers Julie E. Greene, Dave McMillion, and Don Aines contributed to this story.

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