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Hurricane Sandy outages could affect millions

1:22 PM, Oct 29, 2012   |    comments
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Haya El Nasser, USA TODAY

The brutal force and massive breadth of Hurricane Sandy may leave as many as 10 million people in the dark from West Virginia to Maine and even as far west as Chicago.

At least 36,000 people in at least seven states were out of power as of midday Monday, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Thousands of residents in New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland had already experienced power outages by midday Monday, but utility workers were rushing to restore electricity to many before expected wind gusts start slamming the region this afternoon.

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As of 11:45 a.m. ET, about 53,000 Dominion Virginia Power customers had lost power since Saturday but only 5,500 were still without it, says David Botkins, director of media relations.

"We're actively responding to outages as they occur," he says. "We have to be very careful about putting people in harm's way, but so far we've been able to work through it."

The worst is yet to come, and utility companies have been preparing for outages of historic magnitude. Thousands of linemen and support crew are on their way from as far away as California and Texas and many already are set up in staging areas prepared to respond.

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Pepco, which serves Washington, D.C., and its Maryland suburbs, had asked other states to send about 3,000 people to pitch in. The company increased the request to 3,600.

Baltimore Gas and Electric has set up staging areas to accommodate 3,000 out-of-state workers coming from as far as New Mexico, Oklahoma and Louisiana. About 5,000 of its customers were without electricity as of midday Monday.

"It's changing by the quarter-hour," says Keith Voight, spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, the association of shareholder-owned electric companies that generate 75% of the power in the U.S. "Forecasters predicted it could become the worst storm to hit the East Coast in 100 years."

Power outages are expected to be the worst, too, affecting as many as 10 million. About 7 million were in the dark when Hurricane Irene hit last year and 5 million after the "derecho" took the Washington area by surprise in June.

"Utilities have an all-hands-on-deck approach," Voight says.

Even Chicago 800 miles to the west may feel the wrath of Sandy.

"We're actually preparing right now because we're expecting high winds and high waves on Lake Michigan," says John Schoen, spokesman for ComEd, which provides power to Chicago and its suburbs.

ComEd has sent 700 people to help sister utilities Peco Energy in Philadelphia and Baltimore Gas and Electric.

USA TODAY

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