DC-area residents recovering from aftermath of Sandy - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

DC-area residents recovering from aftermath of Sandy

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Flood-prone Old Town Alexandria drew some boot-clad curiosity seekers Tuesday who tromped through ankle-deep water on King Street, the city's main drag, near where it dead-ends at the Potomac River.

Don and Vanessa Hain of Fallbrook, Calif., were vacationing in Washington, D.C., but headed to the historic northern Virginia city to take some pictures and see the sights because everything in the district, including the Smithsonian museums, was closed.

"There was nothing to do" in the capital, Vanessa said. "There were no cars on the streets. We'd never seen it like that."

The Hains did their best to find a bright side. One positive: Dinner seating was readily available at the restaurants that were actually open.

On previous trips to Washington, they had been unable to eat dinner at the Old Ebbitt Grill, a popular restaurant with tourists located near the White House. On Monday evening, they walked into a virtually empty restaurant.

"The first thing the host said when we walked in was `Do you have a reservation?' I looked around and said `You're kidding me,"' Vanessa said.

Sorry, the host said. Force of habit.

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One big difference between Hurricane Sandy and some other hurricanes in recent years: the temperature.

Isabel and Irene, for instance, hit in the late summer in 2003 and 2011, respectively, and temperatures were warmer. Sandy mixed with a late-October cold front that brought cold, driving rains.

"During Isabel, we were out here in shorts and people were kayaking right up here," Annapolis, Md., resident Michael Blade said, as he surveyed the flooded City Dock area with his wife and daughter.

Blade said his house has power and escaped damage, but that the mix of elements was unusual.

"Oh my God, you've got snow on one side of the state and flooding here. It's just odd," Blade said.

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Another role reversal from past storms to hit the D.C. area: Power outages.

Hurricane Irene last year and this past summer's powerful windstorms caused massive power outages, especially in the District of Columbia and the Maryland suburbs of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which are served by the Pepco utility. Pepco executives were routinely skewered by politicians then while northern Virginia, largely served by Dominion Virginia Power, put up better statistics in terms of getting the lights turned back on.

In Hurricane Sandy, though, it's been northern Virginia that has borne the brunt of the outages. Dominion reported more than 110,000 outages in northern Virginia early Tuesday morning, shortly after the storm rolled through. Pepco had only 25,000 outages, and got the number to about 9,000 by 3:45 p.m. Wednesday. Dominion customers, meanwhile, were still dealing with about 65,000 outages as of 3:45 p.m. Wednesday.

"I'm shocked that there aren't more outages in Prince George's and Montgomery," said Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. "So either the winds weren't as bad there or the preventive maintenance has been paying off or maybe slightly a combination of both factors."

Other parts of Maryland weren't so lucky, though the major utility for the Baltimore-Annapolis area was making good progress. Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. reported at about 5 p.m. Tuesday that it had restored power to nearly 200,000 customers while about 138,000 were still without power.

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In Annapolis at Fleet Feet Sports, Noelle Tarr was offering those without power a place to charge their phones and other electronics, but there weren't any takers.

"We've had nobody for three straight days," Tarr said, adding that she was using social media to let customers know the store was open and had power. "You would think people would want to get out."

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With two feet of snow on the ground Tuesday and more on the way, residents of Maryland's far-western mountains were finding their reputation for wintertime hardiness tested by the superstorm.

"We've got a heck of a mess," said Mike Dreisbach, co-owner of the Savage River Lodge, a rustic retreat surrounded by state forestland near Frostburg. "I've been cutting (fallen trees and limbs) since 2 o'clock this morning to get to the hard road."

Even paved highways were barely passable. A 40-mile stretch of Interstate 68 between LaVale and the West Virginia border was fully or partly closed for more than 14 hours after several westbound tractor-trailers jackknifed on Big Savage Mountain Monday night.

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In Bethesda, Md., longtime resident Roger Pompei, 78, said he was reading Thomas Jefferson's Bible when the power went out Monday. It came back on overnight, then went out again Tuesday morning. He wasn't surprised by any of it, he said Tuesday morning as he tried to remove a cluster of leaves from the middle of the road.

Pompei called Pepco, his utility, to report the outage but was flummoxed to have his call answered by a receptionist who was apparently in Utah and didn't show any familiarity with Maryland.

"We've gone through ice storms with our power line down, we've gone through storms like this, wind -- any kind of wind," he said.

"Historically, we're very used to it, but it is frustrating," he added.

He said he has learned some lessons from being in his vulnerable, leafy neighborhood just a few miles north of Washington. After Irene, for instance, he came to recognize the value of turning the freezer up as high as possible. He has a gas-stove range that he just converted from electric and can make coffee through boiling water. He has a battery-operated radio and an LED-lamp that he charged up for the stove.

He's not a big TV watcher -- "Sometimes I don't even watch the Redskins game" -- but did miss having Internet access, as did his wife, who uses it for her work finding providers for elderly people who need nursing assistance in their home.

"I like the Internet, I'm a retired architect. I'm a 78-year-old -- that's how I occupy some of my time."

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For many in the region, Hurricane Sandy was a headache in the literal sense as well as the figurative.

Rapid changes in the atmosphere are one of the most common triggers for migraine headaches, along with stress, smells and bright lights, said Harman Bajwa, a neurologist with Kaiser Permanente's medical center in Springfield, Va.

Sandy brought with it some of the lowest barometric pressure readings that had been recorded in parts of the Mid-Atlantic.

"The rule of thumb is that whenever you have overcast skies, you're going to have an increased volume" of headaches, Bajwa said.

Migraines triggered by barometric pressure changes are treated with analgesics, just like other migraines, he said.

As for whether Sandy caused an increased number of headaches in northern Virginia Monday, Bajwa said he couldn't be certain; Kaiser's clinic was closed for routine visits Monday because of the hurricane.

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Associated Press writers Matthew Barakat in Alexandria, Va., Alex Dominguez in Annapolis, Md., Brett Zongker in Washington, Brian Witte in Reisterstown, Md., Eric Tucker in Bethesda, Md. and David Dishneau in Newark, Del., contributed to this report.

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