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Area picks up, starts return to normal in storm’s wake

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Schools, government offices and transportation systems in the D.C. metro area are set to resume full operations on Wednesday after Hurricane Sandy ravaged parts of the East Coast but did less damage than expected to the District and its suburbs.

The storm forced two days of federal and local government closures, public transportation shutdowns, canceled flights and the shuttering of businesses and schools while leaving more than 120,000 Maryland, Virginia and District residents without power.

Even as some residents woke to blackouts and property damage, local officials said they expected the region to recover quickly and that things could have gone much worse.

"We were all very fortunate to be on the kinder end of this very violent storm," said Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat. "We prepared for the worst, and we were spared from having to endure the worst."

The storm also caused at least four deaths in the region.

Most everything should open as usual on Wednesday. Metro trains and buses started running Tuesday afternoon and will resume their normal schedule Wednesday morning. Also on Tuesday, flights started to arrive and take off at the region's three airports.

Hurricane Sandy pelted the D.C. region with heavy rains and high winds on Monday. Its remnants brought rain and temperatures in the 40s much of Tuesday.

Local weather is expected to improve some in coming days, with forecasts pointing to moderate winds and possible intermittent showers.

Emergency crews and power companies say the elements are unlikely to get in their way as they work to clear fallen trees and downed power lines and to restore electricity to the fewer than 75,000 area residents who remained without power Tuesday afternoon.

Pepco, the primary energy provider to the District and its Maryland suburbs, said it expects to restore power fully to its customers by Wednesday night.

Dominion Virginia Power said it expects to repair its remaining outages by Thursday night.

Many residents who lost power also ran into problems such as standing floodwater and fallen trees on Tuesday morning.

Two residents of Alexandria's Beverley Hills neighborhood, Kevin Roach and Lynn Pascoe, were trying to find a silver lining as they examined an enormous oak tree stretching across the street.

"If it came down, it came down in the best way possible," Mr. Pascoe said.

The giant oak tree in his front yard tipped over during the storm, but its forked trunk made it miss another tree in front of it. In fact, the tree hit only a power line, but no homes or cars on its way down.

"It was a series of booms," said Mr. Roach, a six-year resident of the neighborhood who lives across from Mr. Pascoe and whose lawn was the final resting place of the tree. "It was a total house-shaking boom."

The men appeared resigned to a week without power. Mr. Roach already had become tired of the storm before it had passed all the way through the area.

"Watching the treetops bend was very frightening," Mr. Roach said. "There would be bursts. You could hear [the wind] coming, knew it was going to last five, ten seconds, and then it would die down."

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said the city received 236 calls reporting tree-related incidents, of which 187 were about downed trees.

Mr. Gray, a Democrat, said recovery is moving briskly and gave much of the credit to Pepco, which has been maligned often in the past for slow response to storms but has been praised along with other local power companies for planning ahead of Sandy and acting quickly.

"I don't know what they could have done better, to tell you the truth," said Mr. Gray, who praised the company for learning from its "disappointments of the past."

In Alexandria, officials awoke Tuesday to reports of about 60 downed trees but no serious injuries or accidents and said they were concerned about future flooding as rainwater runoff continues to flow into the Potomac River.

The city distributed sandbags for residents to use over the coming days.

"We're preparing for the worst, but we're not expecting it to be problematic," said city communications director Tony Castrilli.

Despite concern for Hurricane Isabel-level flooding, the Potomac along Old Town Alexandria had crept just several feet above its embankment by Tuesday morning, requiring only one intersection near the shore to be blocked off by police.

As she watched her dog Sophie frolic in the rain puddles, 51-year-old resident Susan Askew said following the newscasts was more like "watching a movie" because what was showing on the television in New York and New Jersey was not what she saw outside her window.

"It was amazing," she said. "We kept listening, and I stayed up waiting for the wind to get bad."

Ms. Askew said she lives in the Harborside community, a riverside neighborhood of town homes where many residents had sealed their garage doors with plastic tarps and sandbags.

She said while the storm was over, she was worried about forecasts for high water levels and planned to patch up her garage door.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, said he plans for state emergency crews to work in the state while dispatching some personnel to New York and New Jersey, which were hit much harder by the storm.

The storm killed at least 30 people, with most located in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and is expected to have caused billions of dollars in damage.

"We'll be providing whatever they need in terms of material and personnel and equipment," Mr. McDonnell said.

Tom Howell Jr., David Sherfinski and Meredith Somers contributed to this report

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