Mid-Atlantic languishes in stifling heat after storms kill 22, cripple utilities

Last Updated 1:57 p.m. ET

(CBS/AP) A weekend without electricity was trying enough for millions in the sweltering, storm-swept mid-Atlantic region. Power outages had already left many to contend with stifling homes and spoiled food as temperatures approached or exceeded 100 degrees - and utility officials said that the power will likely be out for several more days.

As of Monday morning, around 2 million customers from North Carolina to New Jersey and as far west as Illinois remained without power.

Since Friday, severe weather has been blamed for at least 22 deaths, most from trees falling on homes and cars.

But Monday brought another grim challenge, when many embark on a difficult commute over roads with darkened stoplights and likely mass-transit delays.

A Pepco employee works to stabilize damaged power lines July 1, 2012 in Bethesda, Md.
Allison Shelley/Getty Images
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 air conditioners running again. (Even for those with generators, the gas-run devices often don't have enough power to operate an air conditioner.)

In Maryland, which remains under a state of emergency, Gov. Martin O'Malley promised 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.

Historic heat wave meets mass power outages
Mid-Atlantic power outages could last days

In Pearisburg, Va., Carilion Giles Community Hospital is running on generator power, and several outpatient clinics in other localities are closed because of outages. Two outpatient clinics operated by the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Lynchburg and Staunton are closed Monday because of power outages.

Verizon says 911 service in northern Virginia has been mostly restored after being knocked out by Friday night's storm. Verizon spokesman Harry Mitchell said the storm was a "historic event" that knocked out both primary and backup power to the 911 routing facility.

911 calls in Fairfax and Prince William counties and the city of Manassas. are going through again. In Fairfax, however, operators still aren't seeing the addresses of people who call.

All 86 Metro subway stations in the Washington area were open, but delays were possible Monday because power was being routed through the system to serve some areas where power was not being supplied by commercial utilities, spokesman Dan Stessel said. Some stations in Montgomery County were running on backup power, he said, meaning escalators may not work -- bad news for commuters braving the stifling heat. Metro bus riders were expected to experience significant delays.

Jason Lynch, a 23-year-old Energy Department software developer counted at least three malfunctioning stoplights during his two-mile bus ride from Colesville to the Glenmont stop on Washington's Metro subway system. "It was a mess," he said.

There were more than 400 signal outages in Maryland on Monday, including more than 330 in hard-hit Montgomery County outside the nation's capital, according to the State Highway Administration. There were 100 signal outages in northern Virginia late Sunday afternoon, and 65 roads were closed, although most were secondary roads.

"If you have to drive or need to drive, leave yourself a lot of extra time," Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman Charlie Gischlar said. "There's going to be delays."

Drivers resorted to ingenuity to get to work. On a residential street in suburban Falls Church, Va., just outside Washington, downed trees blocked the road on either side. Enterprising neighbors used chain saws to cut a makeshift path on one side, but the other remained completely blocked by a massive oak tree.

"They kind of forgot about us out here," resident Eric Nesson said.

One-year-old Danny Melendez and his mother rest on cots in a Red Cross shelter set up at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Md., after heavy storms in the Washington region knocked out power to their apartment building, June 30, 2012.
Allison Shelley/Getty Images

To alleviate congestion around Baltimore and Washington, federal and state officials gave many workers the option of staying home Monday. 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.

That left many to contend with stifling homes and spoiled food over the weekend as temperatures approached or exceeded 100 degrees, and utility officials said the power will likely be out for several more days.

Death toll from storms rises

In Maryland, officials said they recovered the body of a man who had gone missing while boating early Saturday, bringing the state's death toll to 3, and the national toll to 22.

On Sunday night in North Carolina, a 77-year-old man was killed when strong winds collapsed a Pitt County barn where he was parking an all-terrain vehicle, authorities said. In neighboring Beaufort County, a couple was killed when a tree fell on the golf cart they were driving. Officials said trees fell onto dozens of houses, and two hangars were destroyed at an airport in Beaufort County.

The damage was mostly blamed on straight-line winds, which are strong gusts pushed ahead of fast-moving thunderstorms like a wall of wind.

In West Virginia, authorities said one person died early Sunday when the all-terrain vehicle they were riding hit a tree that had fallen over a road.

Elsewhere, at least 10 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. One other was killed in Ohio, one in Kentucky and one in Washington.

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