How do you know when the power is out in Chevy Chase, D.C.? It's laptop gridlock in the Starbucks and Avalon coffee shops, where Internet-starved locals can get a signal and feed their need.

A freak wind and rain storm tore through the Washington region Sunday, cut power to 300,000 and shut off the water to thousands. A microburst, meteorologists call it. In my microneighborhood around Lafayette Elementary School, 100-year-old oaks fell like broomsticks, snapped power lines and tested the city's ability to respond.

Mike Enten was in the attic of his house on McKinley Street talking to a friend who asked: "Are you seeing what's happening out there?"

Home for the summer from Pratt Institute, Enten bounded downstairs. The enormous tree outside his door that had filled the sky his entire life was swaying like a sapling. By the time he got to his front door, it was leaning on the house across the street.

"A huge patch of sky had opened up that the tree had filled," he said. "Power lines were smoking. It was like a scene out of 'Twister.' "

He dialed 911. Emergency teams arrived in about 20 minutes to string yellow tape. It took another hour for Pepco to switch off the power.

At the end of my street, by 32nd and McKinley, wind had sheared off the top of a tulip poplar. It rendered my street a dead end. Live power lines hummed and lay like snakes writhing on my neighbor's car. My neighbors piled out of their houses to assess the damage and check if everyone was OK. Cops arrived.

"Every thing here is fine until someone dies," one of the officers said. I'm sure he was trying to warn folks to steer clear of the live wires, but my neighbor's 7-year-old daughter freaked.

From what I could gather, Adrian Fenty's government kicked into high gear. Transportation chief Gabe Klein got word Sunday morning from his urban forestry folk that the storm could punch out the city's lights. By 4:30 p.m. he was headed to 17th and Decatur streets, where a tree was ablaze.

Still on the street Monday afternoon, he called to tell me about more mayhem: a Volvo that looked as if it had been sliced in half, more huge trees astride streets, and 65 signal lights that were out -- twice the number from yesterday.

"We were in triage mode at first, trying to clear the main roads," he says. "All the agencies seem to be working well together."

What was not working well was Pepco's response. Teams were stretched thin from Prince George's to Montgomery County just to get the water flowing from the pumping stations. First the power company had to switch the power off to downed live wires, then it had to reconnect them and juice them back up.

Meanwhile, all was calm, quiet and powerless in Chevy Chase. Food rotted, candles burned and people flocked to the coffee shops.

In an Internet world, Mother Nature still calls the shots.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at ">