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Deadly storm leaves more than a million without power in dangerous heat

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Photo - Mari Gillogly, of Arlington, Va., stands alongside her car which was damaged during the violent storms Friday evening, Saturday, June 30, 2012. (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
Mari Gillogly, of Arlington, Va., stands alongside her car which was damaged during the violent storms Friday evening, Saturday, June 30, 2012. (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
Local,DC,Liz Essley

A swift summer storm Friday night killed five people in the Washington region and left millions without power Saturday morning, even as temperatures neared the 100 degree mark for the second day in a row and more storms loomed in forecasts for Sunday and Monday.

The powerful Friday storm, with hurricane-force winds of around 70 mph, took down thousands of trees and power lines across the region, closing roads, smashing cars and even knocking out 911 call centers in much of northern Virginia.

Pepco said it could take a week to restore electricity to all of its customers and other utilities predicted it would take at least a few days to get the lights back on. About 433,000 Pepco customers, 900,000 Dominion Virginia Power customers and 500,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric customers were without power Saturday while crews worked rapidly to get hospitals, nursing homes and other critical buildings back online.

THE WAKE OF THE STORM
Nearly two million households in the area lost power.
The AT&T National golf tournament was closed to spectators Saturday because of storm debris, including a 75-foot tree that fell onto the 14th fairway. Saturday tickets will be honored Sunday, organizers promised.
Amtrak suspended service from Washington to Philadelphia, with downed wires and trees making the railroad impassable until afternoon. The company offered refunds to customers.
Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission customers were urged to ration water because power was out at two of the utility's filtration stations. But officials said the water was safe to drink.
At Washington Dulles International Airport, the storm interferred with internet connectivity Saturday morning, forcing airline staff to enter passenger information manually and causing delays in boarding planes, a spokeswoman said. The problem was solved by afternoon.
Cell phone service around the region was spotty Saturday due to downed wires.
The storm disrupted Metro service Friday night, and the Courthouse Metro station was closed Saturday due to the power outage.

No power meant no air conditioning for much of the Washington region and temperatures climbed steadily until they reached 96 degrees at Reagan National Airport, with the humidity making most areas feel even hotter. Localities across the region opened cooling centers, and officials urged residents to check on elderly and at-risk neighbors.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell declared states of emergency. McDonnell said it was the worst non-hurricane power outage in the state's history and mobilized about 300 members of the National Guard to help with recovery. About 250 secondary and rural roads were closed due to downed trees, the governor said.

"This is a dangerous situation that has occurred," McDonnell said. "It could potentially get worse over the next couple days as the heat and additional storms affect the commonwealth."

Damage was widespread in the suburbs, where grocery stores and convenience stores were often out of ice by early afternoon. Traffic was snarled throughout the area as stoplights went dark without power.

In Arlington, elderly people and children packed the county's Central Library to escape the heat, with others crowded around the library's outlets to charge cell phones and computers.

"It's a little refugee experience. Libraries cover all bases, and it's a good thing we're open," said library spokesman Peter Golkin.

Alexandria resident Robin Blackledge was one of those library refugees Saturday.

"I could see the wind coming through and then I fell asleep -- I woke up and realized, 'Oh, it's hot!' We came here for the Internet," she said.

D.C. residents fled to spray parks and pools to keep cool in the summer sun.

Tenleytown resident Nelson Cronyn, facing a dark and hot home, took his 8-year-old son Zayk on a tandem bike to a public pool to cool off.

"I went on a ride earlier this morning and saw so many downed trees," he said. "It was definitely faster to bike than to drive."

Dupont Circle resident Laura Tiscornia still had power Saturday, but took a trip to a D.C. public pool anyway before heading back home for a get-together.

"I have friends coming over to see me because they're out of power in Virginia. So we're having a little A/C party," she said. "They're all coming over and bringing their freezer food."

On Arlington resident Daniel Shea's street, the storm shredded trees and yanked an enormous maple tree up by its roots.

"I was shocked when I came out here in the yard and saw how much had come down," he said, counting his blessings that his family was unharmed. "For all of the damage done here, we were very lucky. It will be expensive and a little inconvenient, but it could have been a hell of a lot worse."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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