WASHINGTON -- Hundreds of thousands from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic were preparing to spend the Fourth of July like America's founders did in 1776, without the conveniences of electricity and air conditioning.
Power outages from Friday's storm altered planned celebrations in a host of ways and left powerless residents grumbling that America's birthday would hardly be a party. Cookouts were cancelled or moved to homes with power. Vacation plans were altered. Some residents without power said they weren't in a holiday mood. And even some whose power had been restored said they had run out of steam to celebrate in the way they had planned.
Friday's storm arrived with little warning and knocked out power to 3 million homes and businesses in states from West Virginia to Ohio and Illinois. Officials blamed 24 deaths on the storm and its aftermath, and power companies in some places estimated it could be the weekend before everyone's power is restored. More than 900,000 homes and businesses remained without power early Wednesday.
As a result, power repairs were taking priority over parties in many parts. At least four planned fireworks displays were cancelled in Maryland because of the outages, with officials saying they couldn't spare police and fire resources for the festivities.
In Rockville, Md., officials called off their celebration because trees and wires were blocking two of the three entrances to the college campus where fireworks were planned. In Gaithersburg, Md., Acting City Manager Tony Tomasello said his city, about 30 minutes north of Washington, cancelled its display because a power company is using its planned celebration location, a fairgrounds, as a staging area for repairs. Hundreds of bucket trucks park there when crews finish their 16-hour shifts, and transformers, gravel and poles are being stored there too.
"Everyone's disappointed. We're disappointed," Tomasello said of cancelling the celebration, adding that it would be rescheduled.
In West Virginia, meanwhile, officials urged people to resist the temptation to set off fireworks at home because the risk of fire is too high. Many brown, crunchy lawns were already potential fuel, but the trees and limbs that fell during the storm have added even more tinder.
Some people affected by the storm were too tired or frustrated to think about fireworks, parties or planned holiday travel. Dennis Andrews, 62, of Ellicott City, Md., had planned to go to Myrtle Beach, S.C. But after spending 14 hours cutting trees that fell on his property, Andrews, who runs a construction equipment rental company, said he was ready to relax by the pool instead.
Other parties were toned down, cancelled or moved. LaJuan Barnett, 44, who runs a daycare in Waldorf, Md., planned a more modest celebration with hot dogs and hamburgers after throwing out at least $350 in spoiled food and spending another $200 on groceries Tuesday.
"We're on a budget," said Barnett, who got her power back on Monday night, after nearly 72 hours.
Power outages and spoiled food also changed the plans of Sharvey Smith, 39, of Baltimore. Smith had begun preparing for an Independence Day party before the storm hit, buying chicken and spare ribs and planning a small gathering on her back porch. But that food spoiled when her power went out, so her party is off.