Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley might have described Friday’s storm best when he likened it to a hurricane lacking the politeness to warn us of its coming. In its aftermath, generators and bags of ice became commodities, people slept on their porches overnight to escape the heat from their sweltering homes as day dragged into day without electricity, and some restaurants and eateries became de facto cooling centers as customers flocked to quench their thirst, stay cool and power up their laptops and cell phones.
Indeed, the storm — formally a derecho, which takes its name from the Spanish word for ‘straight,’ and uncommon in these parts, — packed a devastating wallop to the region, damaging electrical substations, downing trees and power lines, blocking roads and knocking out power to more than 3 million homes and businesses and resulting in the deaths of more than 20 people.
The storm’s aftermath has also laid bare the weaknesses in emergency response systems and telecommunications networks alike; as late as Monday night, utility companies were still not predicting a return to full power by week’s end.
To be sure, utility crews have worked heroically to restore power to customers, logging in 16-hour days in some places to repair lines and transmission towers, some of which were toppled in the fierce winds, and to remove debris.
Meanwhile, both businesses and neighbors stepped in to provide assistance; the Bavarian Inn reduced its room rates for residents left without power in their homes, while Walmart made a generous donation of snacks and water for the cooling centers set up by the county’s health department at three area public schools. It was also not uncommon to see neighbors working together to help clear streets and yards of fallen trees and branches, to open their own homes up as power was gradually restored street by street, block by block and community by community.
But in the days and weeks ahead, a reassessment of policies and procedures will likely be in order among both businesses and governments as they seek to determine how better to be prepared in the event of something like this happening again. Among the biggest challenges organizations faced this time was in simply getting the word out that resources were available for those seeking aid.
One final note — This edition of the Spirit of Jefferson was cobbled together in the Jefferson Room at the Holiday Inn Express in Ranson. A big thank you to the management and staff there who helped get us set up so we could meet our deadlines this week after the storm knocked the power out at the newspaper’s Charles Town office.