Agence France-Presse/Getty Images – A crew clears a downed tree in Washington, DC., on Sunday.
July 2, 2012 - 14 Dead, 3.6 Million Without Power and Extensive Damage in Mid-Atlantic States After Windstorms: Utility crews from around the country scrambled to the mid-Atlantic region Sunday to clear debris and help restore power in the aftermath of severe windstorms that swept in from the Midwest, leaving millions of customers without electricity as record-setting temperatures baked the nation.
Officials across the 600-mile swath of storm destruction estimate the cleanup may take days, and said full power probably won’t be returned to some customers before the end of the week, making for a sweaty July 4th holiday for those without air conditioning.
On Friday, a small cluster of thunderstorms in northern Indiana sparked a violent weather phenomenon called a “derecho” that escalated to become a 300-mile band that tracked quickly all the way to Washington, D.C., and then out to the Atlantic.
The system, sometimes called a ring of fire for its destructive capacity, was fed by the difference in air temperatures on either side of a weather seam. It generated winds as high as 90 miles per hour over some of the most populated areas in the country, felling trees that snapped power lines and damaged cars and homes.
At least 14 people were killed from Ohio to Maryland and 3.6 million customers were left without power. By Sunday afternoon, power had been restored to one-third of those customers.
The lack of air conditioning came as much of the nation continued to swelter under extreme heat and drought. Since June 24, 1,587 communities have reported record temperatures, including 105 degrees in Denver, 111 degrees in Dodge City, Kansas and 109 degrees in Athens, Ga., said Dan Porter, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
The heat is expected to continue across much of the Midwest and East Coast with 106-degree temperatures expected in St. Louis on Monday.
Meanwhile, sporadic and violent thunderstorms continued to wreak havoc. On Sunday, one such storm darkened skies in Chicago, churning up 90 mph winds, blowing rain sideways and leaving 200,000 customers without power.
On Saturday, President Barack Obama issued emergency declarations for West Virginia and Ohio in response to requests from the governors of those states. He also directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to work with Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. National Guard troops were ordered out to deliver fuel for generators and water for emergency responders in New Jersey, Ohio and Virginia.
West Virginia was among the worst hit. An Amtrak train—the Cardinal, carrying 232 people from New York to Chicago—was held at the station in Prince, near the center of the state, after trees fell across the tracks, an Amtrak spokesman said.
“The storms moved through very fast, and they had massive amounts of wind,” said Terrance Lively, spokesman for West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. The 75 mph gusts “brought down a lot of trees on power lines.”
The state had 460,000 people without electricity as of Sunday night, according to the Associated Press.
In Maryland, about 545,000 people were without power by Sunday night, according to the AP. Officials were hoping to decrease that number to 400,000 by Monday. Gov. Martin O’Malley told CNN the storm sucker-punched his state.
“Unlike a polite hurricane that gives you three days of warning, this storm gave us all of the impact of a hurricane without any of the warning of a hurricane,” Mr. O’Malley said.
A 90-year old woman, asleep in her bed when a tree fell into her home, was among at least seven killed in Virginia. Two young cousins who were camping in New Jersey were killed when a tree fell on their tent. Other storm fatalities included two killed in Maryland, one in Ohio, one in Kentucky and one in Washington, D.C., according to the AP.
Many more were counting their blessings. In Springfield, Va., a middle-class community off the Washington Beltway where two people died as a result of the storm, Edith Wright and her son Tim Intriago surveyed the damage. They had witnessed the ferocity of the storm at 11 p.m. Friday, when high winds tore down a 120-foot oak tree by their home. Mr. Intriago, 42, said the crash sounded like a freight train.
In Fairfax, Va., Maddie Boyles, 17, was home alone when lightning struck a tree near the family’s garage. The teenager had taken refuge in the basement with the family’s two dogs and called her parents, who were at a wedding in New Jersey.
She thought a rustling sound was being made by an intruder, but it turned out the noise was from wind rushing through a gash in the garage roof made by two fallen trunks from a single, large tree.
“What can you do? My daughter is safe. It could have fallen the other direction and taken out our bedroom,” said her father, Mike Boyles.
The Master of Disaster