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Irene aftermath: Which states are restoring power the quickest – and why?

Hurricane Irene knocked out power to some 6.7 million people in 13 states and Washington, D.C. Some states have moved faster than others to restore power, for a variety of reasons.

By Staff writer / September 1, 2011

A Connecticut Light and Power worker Little Eagle Pementil monitors traffic and safety around down wires from tropical storm Irene in Hebron, Conn., Wednesday. Pementil, who is working 16 hour shifts, says some people have been understanding and stopped to ask her how long until their power is restored. Others have yelled obscenities at her.

Jessica Hill/AP

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Utility crews battling fallen trees and flooded rivers have in a four-day span turned the lights back on for 5.6 million customers who had their power knocked out by Hurricane Irene. Some 1.1 million remain waiting in the dark in 12 states.

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Despite weakening rapidly, Irene remained a massive beast the size of Texas, whose gusts hammered areas of the East Coast that have not seen a hurricane in many years. In that time tree growth near power lines had not been cut back, contributing to the large number of downed power lines, grid experts say.

But it could have been far worse. Overall, power has been restored with remarkable speed given the magnitude of the outage say emergency-management experts.

With days of advance warning from forecasters, utilities called in thousands of trucks and crews from the Midwest and South, drawing on agreements with brother utilities in states as far away as Colorado and Georgia. In addition, coordination between utilities and government disaster managers was notably good, observers said.

"We're not hearing what we heard after Katrina, about the lack of communication between federal, state and local emergency managers," says Mark Merritt, president of Witt Associates, a Washington consulting firm that conducts post-hurricane response analyses for governments. "What we're hearing – and it is nonpartisan with independent mayors, governors – is that the response is as good as its ever been and as good as it probably could have been."

Since the peak impact on Sunday, utility crews have restored power to nearly 1.4 million customers per day across all 13 states and the District of Columbia, according to data collected by the US Department of Energy (DOE). By Thursday morning, the District of Columbia and Delaware both were reporting all customers' power had been restored.

But some states were harder hit than others and showed varying rates of recovery, the DOE data shows (see graphic).

The hardest-hit states by percentage of customers who lost power were Rhode Island with nearly two-thirds of all its customers losing electricity, followed by Connecticut with nearly half its customers, and Maryland with about one-third.

Maryland has bounced back quickly, restoring power to 90 percent of its customers that lost electricity. For Rhode Island, the figure is 78 percent.

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