- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Afternoon storms made for a harrowing commute yesterday, as fallen power lines closed the Capital Beltway in both directions, downed trees delayed rail service and more than 150,000 homes and businesses lost power in Maryland, the District and Virginia.

The heavy rains, which were accompanied by strong wind gusts, lightning and penny-size hail, began moving through the region at about 4 p.m.

About 141,000 customers in Maryland and the District were without power at the height of the storm, Pepco officials said. Most of those outages were in Montgomery County. In Northern Virginia, about 50,000 Dominion Virginia Power customers were left in the dark. The biggest concentrations were in Alexandria and Herndon.

Shortly after 5 p.m., Maryland State Police closed the Beltway in both directions near the Greenbelt Metro station because of fallen power lines that electrified guardrails. No one was reported hurt, but the Beltway was closed for nearly an hour as emergency crews shut down power and removed the fallen lines. The lanes were reopened by 6 p.m.

In the District, a massive oak tree about 5 feet in diameter fell on two cars and a home, taking down some power lines with it at Ingomar and 38th streets in Northwest.

“It was a violent shaking, like an earthquake,” said Shaun Snyder, whose home was hit by the tree.

Mr. Snyder, who lives with his mother and stepfather, was alone in the house when the tree hit. “It’s funny, the tree hit the part of the house I’m usually in. Just so happens I was on the other side of the house, looking for flashlights and candles.”

The roots of the fallen tree also hit the family’s van, making it undriveable. “So unfortunately, we got a two-fer,” Mr. Snyder said.

Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, said one woman was taken to a hospital with minor injuries after a tree fell on her car at 17th Street and Mount Olivet Road NE.

“There were trees and wires down all over the city,” Mr. Etter said. He said rescue crews were “running around like crazy.”

Fire investigators were also trying to determine whether lightning was responsible for a two-alarm fire that broke out in a residence at 19th and Kearney streets NE. One man was in the home at the time, but he was not hurt. Witnesses reported hearing a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder moments before the fire started.

The storms also caused trouble on MARC’s Brunswick Line, where trees fell across the tracks near Germantown. Delays were held to about 20 minutes.

Prince George’s County Fire/EMS spokesman Capt. Chauncey Bowers said there were no injuries reported there, though a collapse crew last night was still inspecting a particularly hard-hit section of Old Bowie to determine whether anyone was trapped in homes or vehicles by fallen trees or power lines.

Capt. Bowers said about 40,000 people lost power in the county.

Dominion Virginia Power said about 20,000 customers lost electricity in Alexandria.

“Our crews have been dispatched throughout Northern Virginia, and we’ll be working throughout the night and into the morning to restore power as soon as possible,” said David Botkins, a spokesman for the company.

Potomac Electric Power Co. said about 99,000 customers, mostly in Montgomery County, had lost power.

“Any time there’s an outage that big, it’s hard to determine how long it will take to get everyone back up,” a Pepco spokesperson said yesterday. “Sometimes fixing one line can restore a whole block at once. But because of the storm’s severity, we’re reluctant to give a timetable.”

Most of the power outages were reported in the Rockville and Potomac areas.

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesman Pete Piringer said at least a dozen buildings were struck by lightning. Homes in Damascus, Rockville and Potomac were damaged by storm-related fires and a barn in the Poolesville area burned down.

In Silver Spring, a lightning strike at an apartment complex on Manchester Place at about 5:30 p.m. started a fire that caused $100,000 damage to three units and displaced about a dozen persons, Mr. Piringer said.

Mr. Piringer said rescue workers were still evaluating the damage from another strike at an apartment complex on Brassie Place in Gaithersburg but that more families would likely be displaced.

Montgomery County police were out in major intersections where traffic lights had gone dark, and heavy rains, wind gusts and leaf-spattered roads made driving conditions difficult.

“There were a number of car wrecks here and there,” Mr. Piringer said. “None of them have been all that drastic.”

He said an ambulance leaving the scene of the Manchester Place fire was struck by a falling tree limb in the 8300 block of Piney Branch Road in Silver Spring.

“That whole area looks like a war zone,” he said. “There’s branches, trees all over the place.”

The Carrolltown Mall near Baltimore was evacuated after a temporary roof blew off and is to remain closed until a building inspector signs off on emergency repairs.

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