Storms ripped through the area Friday night, leaving more than 230,000 homes without power in Montgomery County and causing widespread damage.
Gov. Martin O’Malley declared a state of emergency in Maryland, and mandatory water restrictions went into effect due to a lack of power in water filtration plants over the weekend. Traffic lights were out in much of the county, and many businesses, restaurants and camps were still closed at press time, days after the storm.
Accompanied by hurricane-force winds and intense lightening, this unusual, fast-moving thunderstorm was identified as a “derecho,” a weather event more common in the Midwest. A derecho, which in Spanish means “straight ahead,” generally moves in a direct linear path, in this case covering more than 700 miles from Kentucky to the Atlantic Ocean over 12 hours.
Storm impact was inconsistent, with power outages and damage varying even by street within neighborhoods. Giant Food in Kentlands Square Shopping Center was open for business as usual Saturday morning, but nearby Whole Foods had no power and was closed.
While one Lakelands street showed no effects other than a snapped flagpole, a car at a home two blocks away could barely be seen under a tree that fell after being struck by lightening.
“We heard a loud crack, and then our car alarm went off,” said Noel Danforth early Saturday morning. “We looked out the window but couldn’t see anything. We tried to call 911 for three hours and couldn’t ever get through. Finally we just went to bed.”
Around the city, some residents lost electricity for only a few hours while others were still without power on Monday. Sweltering weekend temperatures caused many to escape to air-conditioned homes of friends and relatives and even stores. In Kentlands, dozens of seniors sat in chairs at Kmart, seeking refuge from the oppressive heat in their powerless homes.
Pepco called in help from locales as far away as Canada to assist in bringing the lights back on throughout the county. The utility company based its primary power restoration operations out of the Montgomery County Fairgrounds site, which served as the coordination point for a massive effort involving hundreds of trucks and a supply depot of materials.
Citing a need to ensure power restoration efforts continue uninterrupted, the city of Gaithersburg cancelled its July 4 Independence Day Celebration, including the fireworks display. The festivities would have taken place at the Fairgrounds. The city is looking into the possibility of rescheduling the event to a date later in July.
Signs of normalcy were mixed with a strange reality in the days following the storm. Neighbors worked together to saw and remove huge trees blocking roadways, swim meets were rescheduled, and stores reopened. Yet camps were closed and fresh eggs and milk were hard to find.
And while, for many, life returned to business as usual quickly, others were not so lucky. An email sent out Monday from Rachel Carson Elementary School (RCES) PTA President Liz Fontec brought this point home: “On Friday night, our school counselor, Michelle Vaca, had a tree fall through her house during the storms. Fortunately, the family was in the basement at the moment it happened … [and] made it out safely. However, their house and all of their possessions are destroyed.”
The RCES PTA is holding a collection of gift cards to stores such as Target, Kohls and Lowe’s to help the family purchase clothes and items for their home. Those wishing to contribute can send or deliver checks or gift cards to the school to the attention of Brenda Long for Michelle Vaca at 100 Tschiffely Square Rd., Gaithersburg, MD 20878.