Montgomery County has been shaken up—literally—over the past week ten days by a display of power from Mother Nature.
On Tuesday, August 23 at approximately 1:51 p.m., local residents experienced tremors from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that occurred 38 miles from Richmond, Va. No casualties were reported, though the National Park Service reported cracks along the triangle atop the Washington Monument.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, this was the largest quake to rock the East Coast since a 1944 incident in New York of the same magnitude. The last major earthquake to originate this far south was an 1897 incident that originated in Giles County, Va., and reached a record 5.9 in magnitude.
As soon as the county was able to catch its breath, reports came in of a Category 3 hurricane making its way towards the East Coast. Hurricane Irene eventually made landfall in Maryland late in the day on Saturday, August 27. According to the Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco), 220,000 customers woke up without power on August 28.
Although 63 percent of homes had power returned by 1:00 p.m. on Monday, August 29, 11,000 Pepco customers in Montgomery County were still without power.
According to Pepco, electrical outages due to trees can take longer to repair, since multiple steps are involved in the process. Electrical power must first be cut off, and confirmed. Once this is done, Pepco or the city must remove the portion of the fallen tree that is causing the immediate problem. They will then come back to repair the electrical equipment and restore power. The Pepco crews are reportedly working in 16-19 hour shifts.
One problem facing lower Montgomery County when storms like Irene come is the large quantity of trees lining the streets of the city, which are likely to come down when hurricanes arrive. Cristina Garcia, who lives on Central Avenue in Takoma Park, learned this the hard way.
“Around 4:00 a.m. during the storm, I heard a crashing outside… I thought another earthquake hit,” said Garcia.
As it turns out, Irene claimed Garcia’s Ford Freestyle 2006 as a victim when a tree flattened her car. This was one of an estimated 50 trees to fall during the storm. “I had no idea that tree would fall down,” said Garcia. “We didn’t even go look at the damage until morning, the storm was that bad.”
Takoma Park City Arborist Todd Boltonn cautioned that sometimes, it will be difficult to tell whether a tree is in danger of falling or not. “Damage to tree roots can take 10, 20 or even 50 years to really show up,” said Boltonn. “Most of the trees that came down during the storm had their roots impacted in some way, whether they were older trees, or a driveway installation messed the roots up years ago.”
To try and prevent tree damage during storms like Irene, Bolton recommends having trees inspected every five years or so. “Trees require maintenance and inspection, just like houses do,” he said.
For some people in Takoma Park, Hurricane Irene’s aftermath presented an unusual opportunity to come together as a neighborhood. After a tree at Emily Handord’s home knocked out power for the street, residents of Columbia Avenue gathered outside their homes on Monday night for a potluck BBQ, planned by neighbor Anne Fothergille.
“We had seen neighbors the night before, and they were mentioning how much meat they had that was defrosting without power,” said Fothergille. “The next day, I sent an email to all our neighbors whose emails I knew, inviting everyone to come grill in the street that was blocked off by the tree.”
Liesl Groberg, who attended the potluck, said the evening was a great time for everyone. “The kids staged a cute talent show, and really enjoyed the experience,” she said.
Photo Caption: Fallen trees blocked streets and caused power outages throughout the area. Photo Credit: Julie Wiatt