Heat Wave Takes Toll on D.C. Region

Lack of Power Puts Damper on July 4th Celebrations

Events canceled in derecho's wake

By Jessica Gresko
|  Wednesday, Jul 4, 2012  |  Updated 1:14 PM EDT
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Feeling the Heat During Power Outage

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Thousands of people are spending the Fourth of July like America's founders did in 1776, without the conveniences of electricity and air conditioning.

Power outages from Friday's storm altered planned celebrations in a host of ways and left powerless residents grumbling that America's birthday would hardly be a party. Cookouts were cancelled or moved to homes with power. Vacation plans were altered. Some residents without power said they weren't in a holiday mood. And even some whose power had been restored said they had run out of steam to celebrate in the way they had planned.

Friday's storm arrived with little warning and knocked out power to 3 million homes and businesses in states from West Virginia to Ohio and Illinois. Officials blamed 24 deaths on the storm and its aftermath, and power companies in some places estimated it could be the weekend before everyone's power is restored. More than 900,000 homes and businesses remained without power early Wednesday.

As a result, power repairs were taking priority over parties in many parts. At least four planned fireworks displays were canceled in Maryland because of the outages, with officials saying they couldn't spare police and fire resources for the festivities.

In Rockville, Md., officials called off their celebration because trees and wires were blocking two of the three entrances to the college campus where fireworks were planned. In Gaithersburg, Md., Acting City Manager Tony Tomasello said his city, about 30 minutes north of Washington, canceled its display because a power company is using its planned celebration location, a fairgrounds, as a staging area for repairs. Hundreds of bucket trucks park there when crews finish their 16-hour shifts, and transformers, gravel and poles are being stored there, too.

“Everyone's disappointed. We're disappointed,” Tomasello said of cancelling the celebration, adding that it would be rescheduled.

In West Virginia, meanwhile, officials urged people to resist the temptation to set off fireworks at home because the risk of fire is too high. Many brown, crunchy lawns were already potential fuel, but the trees and limbs that fell during the storm have added even more tinder.

Some people affected by the storm were too tired or frustrated to think about fireworks, parties or planned holiday travel. Dennis Andrews, 62, of Ellicott City, Md., had planned to go to Myrtle Beach, S.C. But after spending 14 hours cutting trees that fell on his property, Andrews, who runs a construction equipment rental company, said he was ready to relax by the pool instead.

Other parties were toned down, cancelled or moved. LaJuan Barnett, 44, who runs a daycare in Waldorf, Md., planned a more modest celebration with hot dogs and hamburgers after throwing out at least $350 in spoiled food and spending another $200 on groceries Tuesday.

“We're on a budget,” said Barnett, who got her power back on Monday night, after almost 72 hours.

Power outages and spoiled food also changed the plans of Sharvey Smith, 34, of Baltimore. Smith had begun preparing for an Independence Day party before the storm hit, buying chicken and spare ribs and planning a small gathering on her back porch. But that food spoiled when her power went out, so her party is off.

She planned to spend Wednesday's holiday at her parents' house 10 minutes away, which has electricity, and where she and her family have been staying. But her patience is wearing thin.

“I want to go back home,” said Smith, adding that she calls the power company number three or four times a day to check on her power.

So far, the estimated time it will be back on is no earlier than Thursday.

The party Potomac, Md., resident James Gangler, a retired computer technician, planned to attend at his former boss' house was cancelled because of the outage. Although the cancellation email was sent Saturday, Gangler didn't see it until his own power returned Monday.

“I'm glad I saw it because I would have shown up there all by myself,” he said.

A nearby swimming pool has reopened and that's where Gangler's wife Anna plans to celebrate the Fourth. But Gangler said he's looking forward to some cool relaxation at home.

“I'm just going to stay in and enjoy the air-conditioning and the quiet,” he said.

In other iconic Fourth of July places, though, plans remained unchanged.

Fireworks on the National Mall in Washington were going forward. At George Washington's Mount Vernon estate in Virginia, where power was initially off for 12 hours after the storm, plans for birthday cake and ice cream making were a go. And in Colonial Williamsburg, the restored 18th century Revolutionary capital of Virginia, there were plans to celebrate with fifes and drums, musket and cannon fire, and a reading of the Declaration of Independence.

In Williamsburg, partying like it's 1776, isn't anything new, said spokesman Jim Bradley.

“In a sense we do that every day, no matter what the weather,” Bradley said.

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