Shedding Light On A 6-Day Black Out

Community News

Maryland Resident Reflects On June 29 Derecho Storm

A worker inspects the damages to a Rockville home after the storm.

It was Friday night, and all I could think about was getting through the last week of summer session one classes. My weekend was planned out:

Saturday: Read a 400-page book about the 1972 elections and work on my final 6-10 page paper for Political Reporting for the 2012 Presidential Campaign class.

Sunday: Start gathering information for my 10 assigned Maryland delegates, also for my political reporting class.

Sounded fun…

The weekend passed, and I managed to do nothing, all because of an unexpected visitor.

It was sudden and short, but the Friday June 29 storm left us without electricity for six sweltering days and scorching nights. I was sitting in my room, unaware that we were expecting a storm, when the lights began flickering. As I opened the door to my room to see what was wrong, I saw everyone from my parents, aunt and uncle, siblings and cousins hurriedly walking around, and by the time it hit me that there was a severe thunderstorm, the lights went out and everything went dark.

“Everyone to the basement!” my father yelled out. Back in my room, I told my husband, Alaa, to hurry downstairs as I fumbled around for my phone. I had finally found a use for the flashlight application I downloaded a year ago.

With the only available flashlight on hand, I made my way back and forth from the kitchen, garage, utility room and basement as I lit the way for my father who was worried that the stove might have been accidently left on and for my mother who was placing dry towels all around the windows in case any water should start dripping in. Our utility room and everything in it was drenched in water by the time the storm passed.

Every so often, when we are hit with brutal storms, for a household with 17 family members, we realize just how unprepared we are for any dangerous or disastrous situation. We had a radio but no batteries. The internet wasn’t working on any of the phones and within 15-minutes many of them had died. And we had no fuel for our generator. We were cut off from the world and did not fully realize the extent of the damage until the next morning.

We all awoke the next morning in puddles of sweat. My husband left to Panera Bread with his laptop and college books in hopes of getting his assignments completed for his 11:59 p.m. deadline, while my father left for an early meeting and on his way back stopped at a gas station for some fuel to fill up our small generator. It later took him and my uncle, who also went to look for gas, over four hours to find a working station. By noon, I had decided to go out and get some bagels and coffee for a small breakfast. I took my sisters along, and in the car blasted the air conditioner.

Driving along rural Bowie, it looked like a ghost town. The roads were covered with tree branches everywhere; light signals were out and signs were blown away. About 300 feet from our house, I noticed an entire electric pole had been uprooted. This, I thought was a good sign, for the electric company would realize how dangerous it was and quickly fix it. I was wrong.

All it took was seconds, but the 60-70 mph “derecho” storm fueled by the 100-degree temperature left a path of destruction so great that about three million customers across the Mid-Atlantic had lost power. Electric companies were estimating repairs to take well over a week to complete. To put the damage into perspective wrote Jeannette M. Mills, Customer Operations & Chief Customer Officer for the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company, this sudden storm caused about “two-thirds of the total outages caused by last summer’s Hurricane Irene.”

Panera was packed and the A.C. was attracting dozens of people creating a line beyond the front door. I made my way to the bathroom to wash up and was grateful for the running water, while my sisters waited in line. They were out of bagels, so we bought two baguettes and a cinnamon crumb cake and made our way back home to the heat. Later in the day, the generator was finally started to get only our refrigerators working. The A.C. takes up too much power, my father constantly reminded us, and so we had to bear through the heat for the week. My aunt later went out and bought five fans to help cool us down.

Our week was pretty much unproductive. The heat and humidity made it impossible to work. We were all feeling lethargic. Mornings were spent on the front porch as the sun was rising and later in the day we would move to the back porch, where we’d have dinner and stay there until about eleven at night. It was impossible to sit inside.

“The electricity should be back on tomorrow,” everyone would say, although we sensed that we were wrong; we were still hopeful. Once I was able to access the internet on my phone and saw that the number of customers BGE had without electricity was over 600,000, I knew we’d be one of the last to get help, and we were, with only 1,000 left after us. Now all I could think about, of course other than the unbearable weather, were my papers that I hadn’t even started. “One more week, one more week, I constantly reassured myself.” And realizing I wasn’t going to be able to do much of anything at home, for the next few days, my husband and I would head to the University of Maryland to study in the morning and then head to Prince George’s Community college –where Alaa was taking classes- in the evening.

As much as I hated being without air condition, the storm wasn’t without its benefits. For one, it brought me closer to God and made me feel extremely blessed for all that He has given me. It is the small things that make you realize His strength and capabilities, like a cool breeze or a nice drizzle of rain. Growing up in America, you take for granted the basic essentials of life such as clean running water and a readily available supply of food.

My mind continued to go back to the people in the drought-stricken part of East Africa and to the people in Syria who were not only suffering from lack of electricity, food and water but are also constantly bombarded with rockets and mortar shells. It also brought us as a family closer as we were forced to spend much more time together-with there being no internet or T.V. Being of Syrian descent, at night we would blast Syrian revolutionary songs from my phone, and we would have our own semi-protests.

While we must always remember God’s might and power, it is in the times of hardships that we feel nearer to Him. With every action, I remembered how grateful I needed to be. To be able to escape to a cooled restaurant, go to school, or just sit in a car with A.C. reminded me of the countless things I take for granted on a regular basis, which is why I took the storm to also be a blessing. It reminded me to always be humble and more aware of those less fortunate than me.

However, as lucky as we were to be safe with no ruined food or damaged goods and property, the 34 people that the Federal Emergency Management Agency attributed as casualties of the storm were sadly not as fortunate. BGE was calling the June 29 storm as “one of the most damaging storms in the company’s nearly 200-year history.” Downed trees and the widespread damage were not only the source of deaths but a consecutive 12-day heat wave with temperatures over 90-degrees led to several other fatalities. And according to a CNN article, “experts are estimating that it should take about a month to assess the amount of damage caused by the severe storm and resulting power outages.” However, Michael Hicks, director of Ball State’s Bureau of Business Research told the Journal Gazette that based off of anecdotal testimonies; the damage from Friday’s storm could add up to $20 million.

On Thursday, BGE crews were working along our street. It was finally our turn. I couldn’t head home just yet though as I had a 12:00 class and still needed to finish my papers that were, thankfully, due by midnight. At around 9:39 p.m., I hit the send button and was officially done with class. Now I waited an hour for my husband to finish his final class for the summer before heading home to a working A.C. Finally.

That night, I woke up to grab an extra blanket to keep me warm.