- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2000

Metropolitan area residents yesterday were cleaning up after a severe thunderstorm ripped through trees and power lines Monday night, leaving one man dead and thousands without electricity.

At its worst, Potomac Electric Power Co. and Virginia Power reported about 84,000 customers without lights.

The numbers diminished throughout yesterday. By 10:30 last night, just 6,000 Pepco customers were without power. Most were expected to have their power restored by midnight, although residents in Southeast D.C., Capitol Heights, Md., Suitland, Md., and Upper Marlboro, Md., likely will remain in the dark until noon today.

In Virginia, the outages totalled 1,500, mostly in Alexandria, Arlington and Falls Church.

Meanwhile, a lightning strike killed a man standing near a tree at the bus stop area of the West Falls Church Metro station Monday night. Metro officials identified him yesterday as Israel Hernandez, 33, of Falls Church, Va. He was pronounced dead about 7 p.m. Monday at Inova Fairfax Hospital.

In addition, a contractor for Pepco who touched a live power line during yesterday's cleanup was severely burned and listed in critical condition at the Washington Hospital Center last night.

Monday's storm which lasted only a few minutes uprooted trees, tore off limbs and knocked over poles, leading some to speculate the area had been hit by a tornado. But weather officials attributed the storm's strong winds to a "microburst."

"A microburst is a [downward] gust from a thunderstorm that hits the ground. The wind gusts up to 60 mph," said Michelle Margraf, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"There was a tornado or hurricane that blew through here," said Bernardo Gomez, who lives near 46th and A streets NE. "I don't care what they say."

"You couldn't see 10 feet in front of you when that rain came," said Jerry Williams, 47, who lives in an apartment building near East Capitol and 47th streets.

Areas in Northeast and Southeast near East Capitol Street and near Suitland Road were particularly hard hit by the microburst, which downed power lines with broken tree limbs and toppled utility poles.

Residents on Capitol Hill and near Wolf Trap in Fairfax County, Va., reported 1-inch diameter hail, while dime-sized hail fell in McLean.

Weather forecasters yesterday predicted that temperatures today would reach 95 degrees, and that thunderstorms are possible this evening, but nothing like Monday's torrent.

Pepco and its contractors spent yesterday re-stringing power lines, replacing downed poles and repairing transformers, while workers for the D.C. Department of Public Works (DPW) cleared streets of debris.

"In that area where the microburst hit, whole trees came down," said Pepco spokesman Robert A. Dobkin.

The area's recent bout of wet weather and soggy ground made it easier for trees to uproot, said DPW spokesman Bill Rice.

"The leaves act like a sail and you get these large numbers of trees down and limbs," Mr. Rice said, adding that more than 170 incidents of fallen trees and limbs were reported to DPW.

Mr. Gomez's kitchen clock stopped at 6:12 p.m. when the storm blew threw and dumped a tree across his power, satellite dish and phone lines at his Northeast home.

"I have no juice, no phone, no nothing just a big tree lying in my yard," said Mr. Gomez, 74.

He's not worried about air conditioning but doesn't want a freezer and a refrigerator full of food to go bad. Mr. Gomez spent most of yesterday trying to get his power lines restored and his phone working.

DPW workers including 12 welfare-to-work employees were mobilized into crews and assigned 12- to 14-hour cleanup shifts. DPW officials estimate it will take two to three days to clean up damage from Monday's storm.

Workers from many city agencies, like the Housing Authority, became temporary arborists and pitched in to help the cleanup yesterday.

"This had all the trimmings of a tornado," said Hugh Triggs, a supervisor of housing authority sites and special projects.

His crew spent most of the midday clearing a large tree from the football field at the Benning Terrace apartment complex.

Pepco distributed dry ice throughout the afternoon yesterday to residents to prevent food from spoiling. Cars lined the parking lot of Fletcher Johnson Elementary School on Benning Road in Southeast, where Pepco workers passed out brown bags of dry ice.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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