- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 2, 2006

Ernesto — the first Atlantic storm this season to reach hurricane status — continued to lose strength yesterday as it headed north, but not before leaving the region with hundreds of vehicle crashes and power outages.

The storm system arrived Friday afternoon, shortly after the National Weather Service downgraded it to a tropical depression, dumping more than 3 inches of rain on the area before heading yesterday morning toward New Jersey and New York.

Southern Maryland and southeastern Virginia appeared the hardest hit.

Leonardtown, Md., in St. Mary’s County received more than 10 inches of rain. The local state of emergency was lifted yesterday so residents forced to leave their homes by mandatory evacuation were allowed to return. In addition, the storm shelter opened at Leonardtown High School was shut down.

In Newport News, Va., a hospital lost power during widespread outages and streets were flooded in knee-deep water.

However, Old Town Alexandria along the Potomac River and other local spots prone to flooding had only minor problems. Stores along the waterfront had some flooding Friday night but most were open by yesterday afternoon.

Still, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine kept in effect the state of emergency he ordered Thursday.

Roger Smith, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s office in Sterling, Va., said damage to the region would have been worse had the storm not hit the North Carolina coast late Thursday night.

“We were lucky it made landfall further south,” he said. “We were spared some of the higher wind gusts.”

He said storm winds in the region were about 20 to 30 mph, with gusts as high as 46 mph.

About 3.49 inches of rain fell at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, while Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport received 3.17 inches.

St. Mary’s County commissioners advised property owners on St. George’s Island with private wells to boil their drinking water for at least 20 minutes until their wells can be checked for flood damage later this week.

Virginia’s Department of Health made similar recommendations, warning those who suspect their water is contaminated to drink bottled, boiled or treated water until their supply is tested.

At the height of the storm, nearly 291,000 power outages were reported in Virginia, mostly in the southeastern region.

By 5:30 p.m. yesterday, more than 133,000 Dominion Power customers remained without power.

State police handled more than 500 traffic crashes from midnight Thursday to 5:30 p.m. Friday. Two fatalities were reported, one near Colonial Heights, in the central region, on Interstate 95. The other was in Suffolk on Route 58, authorities said. In Gloucester County, a husband and wife were killed when a tree fell on their modular home.

Maryland’s State Highway Administration continued to respond to storm-related incidents yesterday while crews cleared trees and other debris from state highways.

Many traffic signals remain out, especially in Anne Arundel County, officials said.

Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. reported about 44,000 outages, about 27,000 of which were in Anne Arundel County.

Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco) crews continued to work around the clock yesterday, restoring outages and repairing power lines downed by fallen trees, officials said. The majority of the outages were expected to have been restored by last night.

Pepco spokeswoman Mary-Beth Hutchinson warned customers to stay away from downed wires and standing water, which could be in contact with an electrical current. She also urged customers to turn off as many appliances as possible before the power is restored in order to avoid power surges, and to call if their neighbor’s power has been restored but theirs has not.

About 8,600 Pepco customers remained without power yesterday afternoon, including more than 4,300 in Montgomery County.

Officials said weather might have been a factor in the accident Friday morning in Silver Spring in which 11 middle-school students were injured after a van skidded out of control and hit them at a bus stop.

The Montgomery County Police Department said yesterday a decision still had not been made on whether the driver will face charges. Six of the children were seriously injured. Brian Edwards, a county schools spokesman, said he could not provide information on the conditions of the children, whose names have not been released.

In the District, there were downed trees, malfunctioning traffic lights and minor accidents, but officials reported no major problems.

The heavy rains washed out many holiday weekend plans.

In Ocean City, residents reported no major damage but said the resort town was covered in sand and the downtown area was temporarily without power. Lt. Mike Stone of the Ocean City Beach Patrol said swimmers were kept away from the surf that surged across the beach into the sand dunes. However, the dunes that protect streets, homes and other structures prevented flooding.

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