Power to the People

At 10:30 p.m. on June 29, the lights went out at my Gaithersburg home. I was not alone. Thousands of Montgomery County residents found themselves in the dark as a severe thunderstorm, a weather event that meteorologists dubbed a “derecho” because of its straight-line winds, pummeled the area with high winds and lightning.

Image of Pepco representative during press conference on being prepared for storms.
As I sat in the dark, I couldn’t help thinking about a press conference that I covered just two days before (on June 27) for MyMCMedia at Pepco’s Rockville service center. A media event where Pepco President Thomas Graham said it was important for residents to prepare for severe weather before it happens. His timing was impeccable.

Still, I count myself as one of the lucky ones. By 2 a.m., the power to my house was restored. Although MCM’s server went down in our Rockville offices, our website never was impacted by the storm.

On Saturday, June 30, I noted the storm’s damage in my neighborhood: barbecue grills toppled, downed tree limbs, capsized patio umbrellas, siding ripped off a house and strewn garbage cans. I posted some photos of the storm’s aftermath on the MyMCMedia Facebook page.

Image of tree toppled over in recent wind storm, on Montgomery Community MediaDriving around that morning was even more eye-opening. Hundreds of traffic lights were not working and patience was wearing thin from motorists as the temperatures began to heat up. Some motorists were not approaching the dark intersections as four-way stops, which could be dangerous for the rest of us on the road. At Lowe’s, I learned that store employees opened the doors at 6 a.m. and by 6:30 a.m. the home store was sold out of generators. By mid-afternoon, customers depleted the store’s supply of flashlights, battery-powered fans and gas-powered chainsaws. There were also long lines at local gas stations where motorists were fueling up not knowing how long the outages would last. The demand for power was just beginning.

Despite having no power, some local businesses were still open. I bought a birthday present for my daughter at a local running store in the dark. But our Saturday swim meet was canceled because there was no power. Officials were pleading with residents to check on their neighbors, especially the elderly. WSSC issued water restrictions.

On Monday, we learned that Gaithersburg’s local fireworks display would be canceled too because the Fairgrounds was being used as a staging ground for power crews coming to the rescue. Montgomery County and Rockville also canceled their fireworks shows because there were so many people still in the dark. The holiday week was no celebration for those residents camping in their own homes without electricity.

On Tuesday, I interviewed Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz whose neighborhood had been without power for almost four days following the storm. His lights came on during the interview, and yes like so many others, his eyes brightened up with excitement when he received the news.

He noted that he had been sleeping in the basement to keep cool and how everything in his refrigerator was lost. A scene played out in countless other Montgomery County homes.

At the power camp at the Fairgrounds, officials told me some residents have followed utility crews to the camp hoping to get the workers’ attention. A Pepco manager said he doesn’t ever remember that happening before during other power outages.

In Aspen Hill, somebody posted a sign on Drake Drive that read: “Pepco Help.” The desperation scrawled on a sawhorse –no doubt on a stifling hot summer day.

On the Fourth of July, the story of the record heat along with so many of our Montgomery County neighbors living without electricity made national news.

As I write this post, there were still thousands of Pepco customers in Montgomery County without power and the extreme heat wave continues. Today at our studios, I met a frustrated Laytonsville family who are still powerless and because they are on a septic system they have no water either.

Montgomery County Council members are planning to host a debriefing on July 19 to discuss Pepco’s response to the storm. The Laytonsville family said they will be there. I am sure there will be many other residents there too.

We want to help tell your storm story. Use the form below to share your story and include a picture.

Power to the people.

Sonya Burke

About Sonya Burke

Sonya Burke is the Multimedia Manager at Montgomery Community Media (MCM). You can email story ideas at or reach her on Twitter @SonyaNBurke.


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