Thursday, September 25, 2003

Millions still without power a week after Hurricane Isabel: "The devastation left behind by Hurricane Isabel, which struck the mid-Atlantic United States on September 18-19, raises new questions about the decay of the US infrastructure, particularly the electrical power system whose critical weaknesses were already exposed in the blackout that hit eight states in the Northeast and Midwest a month ago. ...

"More than 15 million people lost electricity services in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, the area hardest hit, and 3 million were still without power Wednesday, September 24, a full week after the storm. The two biggest utilities, Dominion Electric in Virginia and Potomac Electric Power (Pepco) in the Washington DC area, said that some customers would not have their power restored until two weeks after the storm. ...

"Several hundred school buildings were without power in Washington and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, about one-sixth of the total, forcing class cancellations for tens of thousands of school children. A second rainstorm on Tuesday, September 22 forced many schools that had reopened to shut down because of renewed outages and flooding. ...

"The storm had a dramatic impact on many regional landmarks: ... Alexandria, Virginia’s historic Old Town area was under 10 feet of water ...

"A representative of the Insurance Information Institute estimated the total cost of Hurricane Isabel as $5 billion, half of it damage to businesses and public infrastructure, half of it damage to homes. Because of changes in insurance coverage in the aftermath of the devastating financial losses caused by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, as well as smaller storms over the past decade, only 20 percent of damage will be covered. The bulk of the repair cost will come out of the pockets of homeowners and small businessmen, driving many weaker companies into bankruptcy.

"The impact of the storm on the electrical system was far more severe than expected in the hours before Isabel arrived. The power distribution lines, in particular, proved to be extremely vulnerable to what was, in the final analysis, a comparatively modest weather event. ..."

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